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Part 1: The Change Imperative
Part 2: Teams Large and Small
Part 3: Sharing
Part 4: Letting Go
Part 5: Looking Ahead
Table of Contents
When the United States went to war in Iraq, everyone assumed the world's most elite and best-equipped army would have no problems wiping out a seemingly ragtag band of radical fighters. Things didn't go to script. It wasn't that the enemy was superior – the battle was being waged in a dizzying new environment. That same complex landscape is emerging today in industries far and wide.
When the United States went up against the Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), it struggled at first to try and understand what kind of enemy it was fighting. Whereas the US Army, for example, was organized along classical military lines, the AQI had a completely unorthodox structure. Rather than a hierarchy, the AQI was a network of teams of two or three freedom fighters who would use the Internet (especially social media) to publicize their terrorist raids and public executions.
Since the AQI had no obvious chain of command, it was impossible for the United States to target anyone influential. (And thus, the US Army claimed about twenty times it had killed AQI's "number three" without realizing in a network, everyone is a number three). Furthermore, to add to the chaos, AQI operatives wore no uniforms, drove the same kind of vehicles as everyone else and could therefore launch an attack and then immediately blend back into the urban landscape. This made fighting them exceptionally hard and nonconventional.
To try to get to grips with this challenge, the US Army tried several ideas:
1The Army moved from carrying out large scale operations to small sorties where individual threats were neutralized by teams working out of helicopters often at night. In other words, the US Army tried to become more efficient in how it fought the war. The only problem was every time an AQI team was taken out, the rest of the network reorganized itself almost organically and carried on. Becoming more efficient at an old strategy was no step forward.
2The Army tried to use a "Big Data" approach. They used live video feeds from drones and cameras carried by the troops on the ground to get a better picture of what was happening so an appropriate response could be prepared and delivered. Repeatedly, however, by the time that data was crunched and a response prepared, the battlefield had changed again. Eventually it was acknowledged AQI was operating in a complex ecosystem for which no predictions could be made with certainty.
"That AQI was successful was obvious. How they were successful was less clear. AQI's network was organic and associative, held together by a property we could not identify. They were decentralized, but they were also coherent. Even as AQI metastasize across Iraq, growing in scale and reach, they somehow preserved their agility." — General Stanley McChrystal
Eventually, the US-led Task Force came to realize AQI's secret sauce was "resilience". Resilience is defined as "the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure." This was exactly what AQI had achieved. Even though it lost firefights in Iraq and fielded less capable fighters, the AQI network was able to continue to grow because it could bounce back, adjust and survive. That resilience allowed AQI to outperform a superior Task Force.