Between The Preferable and Detestable
We're in there somewhere.
Quote of the Moment
The struggle is never between good and evil, it is between the preferable and detestable.
| Raymond Aron
As the Aron quote above may suggest, I’ve been deeply concerned about the war in Ukraine, where the human costs have become unimaginable, and there is no end in sight. We can only hope for Aron’s preferable, I think.
But there are some lessons to be learned from the decisive actions of the Ukrainians in this struggle. Thomas Friedman recently interviewed John Arquilla, the author of a next-generation treatise on warfare, Bitskreig: The New Challenge of Cyber Warfare, and who recently retired as a distinguished professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
There has been little in the way of cyberwarfare in these 50 days of conflict, but there has been great evidence of what Arquilla calls the ‘three new rules of warfare’. (As we will see, there are at least four new rules.)
“In that book, I outlined the three new rules of war, all of which I am seeing being employed by the Ukrainians,” he explained.
“The first is that many and small beats large and heavy. The Ukrainians are operating in squad-level units armed with smart weapons, and these are able to disrupt far larger formations and attack slow-moving, loud helicopters and such. So even though they’re outnumbered by the Russians, the Ukrainians have many, many more units of action — usually between eight and 10 soldiers in size.”
Arquilla spoke about the Ukrainians’ use of small, agile teams of infantry, leveraging lightweight smart weapons that can ‘take out the Russians much larger and more heavily armored tank units’.
The second rule of modern warfare playing out in Ukraine, he said, “is that finding always beats flanking. If you can locate the enemy first, you can take him out. And especially if the enemy is made up of a few large units, like a 40-mile-long convoy of tanks and armored personnel carriers, you’re going to hammer the hell out of them with your small squads, without having to outflank them with an equal-sized force.”
The Ukrainians’ deployment of small drones has been tremendously effective, as have the Ukrainian informal observer corps — babushkas with cell phones calling in the location of slow-moving tank columns.
The third rule of new-age warfare playing out in Ukraine, said Arquilla, is that “swarming always beats surging.” He explained: “War is not just a numbers game anymore. You don’t need big numbers to swarm the opponent with a lot of small smart weapons. I am sure you’ve seen some of the videos of these Russian tanks and columns, where suddenly one tank gets taken out at the front and then another at the rear, so the Russians can’t maneuver, and then they just get picked off.”
Arquilla noted that the Russians could adapt, and learn how to operate with small infantry units instead of tank columns, but they lack the small unit independence and localized decision-making of Ukraine’s soldiers.
One of the reasons they’ve had so many generals get killed is that at the tactical level, they don’t have people who are empowered to make those quick decisions in a firefight; only general officers can, so they [generals] had to come down close to the front and do things that lieutenants and sergeants in the American military routinely do.”
So this is the fourth rule of modern warfare: decentralized always beats centralized. This means the loss of a unit’s commander can't bring down the responsiveness of an area’s warfighting. That’s also true of cyberattacks: decentralization — in both contexts — leads to resilience.
The lessons can be applied in an analogous way to the battlefields of business, where instead of antitank weapons employed by small infantry units we might envision faster innovation by entrepreneurial developers running rings around leviathan slow-moving corporations.
One parallel that occurred to me was the rapid development of Obsidian’s core platform by a very small team as a tool to think, write, and remember, helped to a great degree by an engaged community of swarming volunteers building out plugins and themes for the platform, all in close contact with a committed group of end-users, finding new ways to apply the tool. Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Dropbox are years behind, like a tank column in a next-generation land war.
So take note:
Rule #1: Many and small beats large and heavy.
Rule #2: Finding beats flanking.
Rule #3: Swarming beats surging.
Rule #4: Decentralized beats centralized.
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Rachel Pelta of Flexjobs reports that 1 in 3 people are considering joining the Great Resignation:
Though 2021 saw record levels of workers quitting their jobs, 2022 shows no signs of a slowdown. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), by the end of February 2022, 4.4 million people quit their jobs—a number that’s holding steady for the first part of the year.
To better understand what’s motivating people to quit, FlexJobs surveyed 2,202 people between February 23, 2022, and March 7, 2022. We asked them why they wanted to quit their jobs and how they planned to do it.
Here are the top seven reasons, all of which were selected by more than 40% of the respondents (the survey allowed for multiple reasons):
So, numbers 1 and 3 = bad management. The others are the many facets of businesses that are not centered around people, and which exist for — if they actually exist for anything — the shareholders and management.
Social Now is a conference with a very unique format that delivers actual learning, many actionable tips for organizations to implement, and long-lasting memories.
The topic for this edition is Enabling engaged, high-performing teams because organizations need to sustain engagement and create the right environment for teams to achieve their highest potential, no matter where they work.
Paul Krugman attempted to approach the Great Resignation macroeconomically, but asks the wrong question:
Have large numbers of Americans dropped out of the labor force — that is, they are neither working nor actively seeking work?
Because he thinks of the Great Resignation as people dropping out of the labor market instead of quitting bad jobs to find better ones, he‘s missing the insights of Pelta’s survey, above. He's only looking at aggregate numbers, not why they shuffled.
Worst of all, he thinks his analysis justifies policies to push people out of the workforce:
Does the declining plausibility of the Great Resignation narrative have any policy implications?
Well, I don’t like saying this, but it does seem to reinforce the case for higher interest rates. Until recently, it was fairly common for monetary doves to argue that we weren’t really at full employment, because there were many potential workers still sitting on the sidelines. That’s now a hard case to make; the U.S. economy now looks overheated by just about every measure, which means that it needs to be cooled off a bit.
I hope that doesn’t portend a recession because Krugman and all the other important people decide collectively to hit the brakes so hard we topple into a recession.
Julian Summerhayes asks contemplative questions about deep culture.
“For diversity goals, the biggest lever you can pull is eliminating the four-year degree filter,” said Elyse Rosenblum, managing director of Grads of Life, which advises companies on inclusive hiring practices.
Starbucks workers win streak of union elections, with no sign of slowing | Andrea Hsu relates that Starbucks workers were often drawn to the company's explicit culture -- benefits, college costs, flexible work schedules -- but have soured during the pandemic because of disagreements with management about Covid safety, and now, because of union-busting activities. They want more money and a bigger voice at the table. The returning interim CEO, Howard Schultz wants to buy them off, but to do without the union. The newest flare-up comes as Schultz yelled at a union organizer in a virtual town hall, ‘If you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you go somewhere else?’. Nice.