Bush Endorses Competing on the Edge

Realizing that “Stay the Course” sounded a little too much like Farragut's “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” President Bush has begun emphasizing a strategy of flexibility in contrast to the staid tone of his earlier catchphrase.

Changing his language to emphasize “flexibility” over “staying the course,” Bush said the coalition is adapting its strategy to guarantee a win. The president also reassured Americans that despite the lengthy deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq, America is winning the War on Terror.

From a business warrior's standpoint this is an emphasis of the “Competing on the Edge” strategy over the “Core Competence” model. It's about time. Core Competence emphasizes sustainable advantages and long-term dominance whereas Competing on the Edge emphasizes generating a continuous flow of advantages and reinvention in the face of competition. Amongst its goals it getting out of the mode of reacting to enemies, instead leading to anticipate and eventually lead in the marketplace.

The strategy in the Global War on Terror needs to be adaptive enough to deal with the hundreds of terrorists cells out there working independently to harm us. Our goal is clear: prevent terrorist attacks on Americans and our allies, but the sub-goals also need to be coherent. I believed tha the tactic of invading Iraq had great goals: remove a terror sponsor; concentrate terrorists on troops, not citizens; allow the exit from Saudi Arabia which inflamed many; remove access to WMDs thought to be owned by Saddam; give us a border with Iran and Syria. Only some of these have been successful. The web did catch a lot of terrorists. We did remove Saddam. However, Iran and Syria seem more of a threat now than those short years ago. There has been too much chaos.

Competing on the Edge is all about finding the right balance between terror and tyranny. While I won't recant the entire book, it's about a series of traps and how to find the balance between them. The first concerns communication and structure with the two extremes of chaos and bureaucracy and the balancing point being improvisation. If anything, the American approach seems far too structured to support improvisation, and any mistakes made improvising are immediately pounced upon by political elements scoring points. One message is clear, communications within the allied efforts are hardly real-time or loosely constructed to find synergies. They are stifled and second-guessed, as Able Danger has proved.

The next balance point involves collaboration, closely related to the above. The traps are “lockstep” where everyone collaborates and must get everyone else's approval for everything or “star” where every organization is out for itself and doesn't look for ways the rest of the organization can help. The US Government is definitely in the star trap. The FBI and CIA and the Defense Department seem as much at war with each other as with the terrorists. The Department of Homeland Security was supposed to fix this. It hasn't. The way out is “coadaption” where specific opportunities to collaborate are identified and driven and it is recognized that each part of the government is unique in its approach to the GWOT. I think we could get to the right place on this one fairly easily.

I could go on, but it's clear that the remaining Competing on the Edge elements of Regeneration, Experimentation, and Time Pacing could be used to balance the US Government's approach to the GWOT, making it flexible enough to deal with the changing threat, but not so flexible as to be chaos. We need to get out ahead of the terrorists and let them dance to our tune instead of us always reacting to their latest threats.

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Josh Poulson

Posted Wednesday, Oct 25 2006 08:54 AM

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