Doctrine: Downloading Wisdom for Agility and Effective Improvisation


As we move towards more networked model, there aren't a lot of examples of how to operate this way. But interestingly, one of the best examples is the military. We normally think of the military of being the ultimate hierarchical organization. But after 9/11, the military had to undergo profound change because they recognized that in order to fight terrorists, they had to become a network. Their mantra was 'it takes a network to beat a network.' Because of this, they implemented new practices that would enable them to work in a networked, collaborative way. One of the keys to successful a networked organization was their use of doctrine. We don't normally have a sense of doctrine in business, but the military has a long history of doctrine. It comes out of the fact that we normally hear of the 'fog of war,' and the fact that when soldiers are fighting, there's always uncertainty—there's always changes on the battlefield. And any plan, as they say, 'no plan survives engagement with the enemy. So the key to doctrine is that it sits in between strategy and plans. It is more specific than the strategy, but also more versatile than plans, or rules. Think of it as heuristics, or guidelines: the purpose of doctrine is to enable an individual to know what to do in a situation that's consistent with the strategy and achieves the objectives of a plan, but with flexibility, with autonomy, for the individual, in the circumstance. And the creation of effective business doctrine, I believe is going to be critical for the transition of business in the next century.

One of the greatest challenges as you move towards a more networked organization is that people have more autonomy. For all we normally think of wanting to have more freedom and more responsibility and more leeway in order to take actions, at they same time it's often scary for people. And it's why this notion of doctrine is important—to give people on what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable. It's not enough to just say, "we're more open, we're more transparent, you have more freedom—go out and do what you feel you need to do," because what will happen is they'll go off and do all sorts of things that may or may not be aligned and then you'll be caught as a leader between either chastising them or bringing them back into line, and then that'll send the wrong message to the rest of the organization. It's finding the right balance between autonomy and constraint in such a way that everyone can become aligned to fulfill on the purpose.

The best way to surface doctrine to is to initially start by understanding the core purpose of the organization. You have to start there. This purpose has to be a shared purpose with your customer.