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Document created: 24 April 01
Space Power Chronicles -
A Junior Officers Practical
Guide to Knowledge-Based Operations
Captain Tom Coakley
Anecdotal evidence suggests the informational videos,
Sun Tzu quotes, and training programs designed to spread the word
about Information Warfare (IW) to users in the field come across
as simplistic and impractical. Service school members produce
a wealth of intelligent thought on IW, however, these ideas filter
down to the unit level only when the school members themselves
graduate into unit level commander positions.
As junior officers in the field, we have neither the time nor
the luxury to scale the "wall of separation" dividing
the military-academic community from our active quest to train
and/or conduct military operations on a routine basis. While we
attend IW and Information Operations (IO) training seminars, these
tend to focus on technologies, OODA loops, and the theoretical
importance of IW. Some of us find ourselves in organizations that
include "information operations" in the unit name ("The
544th Information Operations Group"), and some
might actually dub us "information operators," but these,
at times, appear as little more than definitions and hopes for
a practical reality.
And what about those of us who do not explicitly work in IO?
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have called on each of us to achieve
the mutual vision of Information Superiority, but how do we do
that in the finance squadron, from behind the turret of a tank,
above the ocean in a Cold War era helicopter stuffed with new
Our individual commands have issued their own visions, published
articles on the significance of fighting in the information age,
and lauded advances in military technologies, but how can we turn
this information into action? How do we lead efforts, on
a local level, to transform our superior information into what
the JCS call "superior knowledge and decisions?"1
One answer holding substantial potential comes from the business
community, which faces similar informational leadership issues
within its ranks. The "competitive edge" increasingly
goes to those companies engaging in an active management of their
knowledge.2 Practical suggestions for conducting knowledge
management have evolved from several years of theoretical discussion
and companies as diverse as those offering data-mining consultation
services to those hawking plastic trinkets embrace these suggestions.3
This paper offers a practical approach to operating in the information
age. While primarily focused towards junior officers, the suggestions
also apply readily to the leadership decisions non-commissioned
officers and junior enlisted members face. By building a foundational
understanding of knowledge-based operations, and then walking
through several straightforward methods to assess an organizations
knowledge needs, this paper establishes one basic method by which
leaders can actively lead, decide, and innovate in the Information
Together we praise and bash the progress of technology. It speeds
communication and then bogs us down with too much information.
We praise our smart weapons, but lament the fact that we have
too much intelligenceeither contradictory or overwhelmingand
information overload slows down the decision on which target to
strike. How did we get to this point, and how do we steer a correct
Concept for Future Joint Operations: Expanding Joint Vision
2010 made its debut several months after JV 2010, providing
a practical framework for the vision that paved the way for joint
operations in the information age. It echoes JV 2010s
praise for technology, noting, "Information-specific technologies
give us a unique opportunity to achieve more than just incremental
improvement to existing capabilities."5 As one
works through the chapters of Concept, the call for technological
innovation seemingly dominates other themes, and technology enthusiasts
and vendors rushed to fill the void. A careful reading, however,
makes it clear that the CJCS intended no such emphasis, but rather,
intended to emphasize technology as a force worth domesticating.
With military units around the globe rushing to acquire and develop
the latest battlespace management technologies, and working hard
to place the fastest communications and information systems on
the desks of decision makers, Joint Vision 2020 absolutely
qualifies any mis-readings of JV 2010 as a mandate for
technology. The problems with focusing on technologyon gathering
more information at an ever-quicker paceis that "there
is a risk of outstripping our ability to capture ideas, formulate
operational concepts, and develop the capacity to assess results."6
JV 2020 states unambiguously that technology, while paramount,
is secondary to "the development of doctrine, organizations,
training and education, leaders, and people that take advantage
of the technology."7
Joint Vision 2020 clearly calls for innovation, and it
extols the importance of information superiority, calling
it the "key enabler and capacity for our innovation."8
The definition of information superiority has remained unchanged
since JV 2010 was published; it is "the capability
to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of
information while exploiting or denying and adversarys ability
to do the same."9 Joint Vision 2020 puts
a new twist on information superiority, though, and recognizes
that information in a vacuum accomplishes nothing. Leaders use
information, transformed into knowledge, to make the best
"Information superiority provides the joint force a competitive
advantage only when it is effectively translated into superior
knowledge and decisions. The joint force must be able to take
advantage of superior information converted to superior knowledge
to achieve decision superioritybetter decisions
arrived at and implemented faster than an opponent can react,
or in a noncombat situation, at a tempo that allows the force
to shape the situation or react to changes and accomplish its
mission. Decision superiority does not automatically result from
informational superiority. Organizational and doctrinal adaptation,
relevant training and experience, and the proper command and control
mechanisms and tools are equally necessary."10
With this strong endorsement from the CJCS, a junior office needs
guidance, not theory, to advance efforts to achieve decision superiority.
Joint Vision 2020 offers insight on where to start, stating
that the purpose of information operations [IO] "is to facilitate
and protect US decision-making processes, and in a conflict, degrade
those of an adversary."11 IO are "inextricably
linked to focused logistics, full dimensional protection, precision
engagement, and dominant maneuver, as well as joint command and
While a specialized unit might engage in an explicit IO mission,
JV 2020 calls for IO across the spectrum of military operations.
How does one implicitly conduct IO, no matter what his or her
individual mission focus? As the introduction to this paper states,
the corporate world is now aggressively pursuing knowledge management
(KM) as a means to an end-state of competitiveness. KM acknowledges
the supremacy of knowledge to information (see quoted paragraph
above), and incorporating IO across operations might be more easily
understood as engaging in knowledge-based operations.13
At its most basic level, KM theory argues that the key to success
within any organization lies in its ability to create, tap, and
apply knowledge. The idea that prevails in both academic and practical
writing about KM is that successful organizations must "provide
the right content to the right people at the right time"
in order to succeed.14 Turning this theory into practice
requires a basic understanding of what the theory calls for.
The authors of Managing Knowledge: Building Blocks for Success,
begin by explaining the difference between data, information,
When rules of syntax are applied to symbols, they become data.
Data are capable of interpretation within a particular context,
thus providing the receiver with information. When information
is networked [italics added for emphasis], it can be used
in a particular field of activity, and this we may call knowledge.15
This definition seems to suit the CJCS call to "convert"
information into knowledge: networking is the transforming process.
"Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 6, Command and Control",
offers a similar definition, placing knowledge in the context
of the armed forces, calling this idea the "Information Hierarchy."
This viewpoint begins with collected, raw data (see Figure
116). Formatted, plotted, translated, correlated
data is called processed data. Analyzed, integrated, evaluated
data is called knowledge. A Marine Corps officer synthesizes knowledge
and gains understandingthe tool for decision-making.17
By recognizing the difference between knowledge and the simpler
ideas of data and information, a leader can more readily assess
whether she can make a good decision, or if more data, information,
and knowledge will justify delaying the decision.
Effective decision-making requires situational awareness. Recognizing
the right knowledge at the right time will maximize a decision-makers
situational awareness. The three types of knowledge described
here comprise battlespace knowledgeknowledge of the battlespace
that is the basis of a decision.
Functional knowledge is "expert" knowledge.
Experts assigned to a particular military career field possess
this type of knowledge, and it generally sets them apart from
other members of a larger organization. For example, an Air Force
Information Manager holds certain expert knowledge relating to
database management, file plans, and official correspondence.
The amount of expert knowledge can vary, but specific milestones
of expert knowledge must be attained before an information manager
can upgrade his or her skill level. Experts know what to
do in a particular situation, and they know why it must
be done.18 (p. 30)
Operational knowledge is "based on action."
Operational knowledge is the knowledge a sailor gains through
on-the-job training. It is the experience an action officer gains
as she plans and executes increasing numbers of projects. Action
officers, and skilled technicians know how to do their
jobs efficiently. (p. 31)19
Contextual knowledge "arises by operating in specific
environments." It is the knowledge a pilot uses to fly a
successful mission whether over Kosovo or enforcing the Southern
Watch no-fly zone. It is the knowledge a personnel technician
uses to effectively operate in a squadron orderly room, or in
the base military personnel flight. Effective warriors know
where and when to apply their experience and expertise.20
Battlespace knowledge enables decision. It is the sum
total of the three types of knowledge listed above and allows
a Joint Force Component Commander to effectively prosecute a war.
It is the knowledge an acquisition officer uses to integrate the
right new software into operations. It is the knowledge
an NCO uses to run an orderly room. Battlespace knowledge allows
a leader to understand the situation, why she must act, how she
must act, as well as when and where to act.
Knowledge of any type may be described as tacit (or implicit)
knowledge, or explicit knowledge. An officer who understands these
two types of knowledge can better extract the knowledge from its
sources and build his or her battlespace knowledge.
Tacit knowledge is the unspoken knowledge a sharp personnel
NCO uses to consistently produce quality results in the performance
of her duties. Its her attention to detail, her project
management intuition, and her "knack" for turning "bad"
junior enlisted members into the units young stars. If commanders
could tap this knowledge and give it to everyone in the unit,
they would thrive operationally.
Tacit knowledge, while often positive, is unspoken and undocumented,
and can lead to several pitfalls: "it can be wrong, its
hard to change, and its difficult to communicate."21
Think of the problems one could encounter with tacit operational
(gained through experience) knowledge. For example, based upon
years of precedent, an environment emerged in the military in
which troops learned that persistently asking an uninterested
co-worker for a date "wont get me in trouble."
The Department of Defense consequently spent countless duty hours
and millions of dollars ensuring each of its members realize its
inherently wrong to engage in any form of sexual harassment.
On the other hand, explicit knowledge is relatively easy
to identify: its tangible, accessible, and practical knowledge;
its "everything that remains when the employees go
home."22 Documented in web pages, continuity books,
training manuals, and sophisticated databases, explicit knowledge
gives leaders a tool to actively conduct knowledge-based operations.
Leaders foster environments in which their warriors can successfully
accomplish their duties; making the right tacit knowledge explicit,
correcting it when wrong, and communicating it when right, gives
everyone access to knowledge they need to succeed. The next section
offers suggestions to help leaders identify which tacit knowledge
merits transformation, and, more importantly, it describes how
to determine what types of knowledge, tacit and explicit are important
to your organization.
The Practical Approach
These approaches are very straightforward: in fact, most military
organizations probably engage in several of these activities already.
What makes this approach "new" is the application of
this knowledge. By assessing the type of knowledge an organization
needs to conduct knowledge-based operations and comparing it to
what knowledge the organization already has (or can quickly access),
a junior officer can readily isolate the organizations knowledge
gap. Understanding this gap allows organizations to work around
weaknesses, concentrate their acquisition needs, and focus their
innovation efforts. Other approaches listed help leaders adapt
their missions towards the JV 2020 goal of achieving information
superiority, with each of these suggestions centering on innovation.
Each of these approaches enables leaders to overcome the problems
of dwindling retention and high turn-over: documenting knowledge
and making it readily accessible greatly reduces "spin-up
time" for new members and gives expert knowledge to non-experts.
Again, by conducting knowledge-based operations, decision-makers
can always readily identify and access the knowledge they need
to make the right decision.
Step 1. Identify the types of knowledge your organization
needs to succeed operationally (Needs Assessment)
"Knowing what you need to know" enables knowledge-based
operations: proceeding without this knowledge is like a train
with out a trackit lacks direction. In business circles,
the step involves identifying customers and what their specific
needs are. Since the late 80s, most military units have engaged
in the process of "identifying their customer," and
junior officers often engage in this practice below the unit level
to focus their own circles of influence. Whats new to this
process is going beyond identifying the customer: this step involves
truly understanding what the customer wants and needs.
Documenting this knowledge will also help leaders determine who
their customers are not, which can prevent needless effort
on the organizations part, and prevent information overload on
the part of the "non-customer."23
Who uses the knowledge our organization creates?
|Who reads our reports (and why)?
Who makes decisions based on the work we do (and why)?
Who do we brief regularly (and why)?
Who do we send our trip reports to (and why)?
Who cannot do their job if we dont do our job (and
Who do we (I) lead (and why)? (Think beyond chains of command
to working groups, project coordination, etc.)
How is our knowledge applied?
|Is anyone not using our knowledge that really
should use it?
Of the organizations were sending our knowledge to,
which are actually using it?
What decisions are made using our knowledge applied?
What additional information do our customers need to apply
the knowledge we provide to them?
Are their barriers to accessing our knowledge that make it
These boxes suggest a starting point, but answering these questions
presents certain challenges, particularly if your organization
has traditionally conducted is operations in a knowledge vacuum.
The goal here is to really understand the "give and take"
of knowledge that occurs between organizations, and to pin-down
whether the information networked between these separate entities
actually engenders the right knowledge. Even in organizations
praised for their operational excellence, knowledge transfer can
Understanding the customer "is the worst managed intangible
asset,"24 and a condition of ignorance exists
in a surprising number of organizations, including many large
businesses where understanding the customer is vital to profitability.
Knowledge management practices call for "dwelling in the
mind of the consumer,"25 which means understanding
both what the consumer needs, and teaching them about the providers
organization. This can be done through a sort of organizational
In order to make up manning shortfalls in one career field, the
Marine Corps, like the other armed services, will assign an officer
to a job outside his or her field of expertise. For example, Marine
Corps aviators will often spend a tour of duty serving as a unit
intelligence officer. Although the learning curve is steep for
performing assigned intelligence duties, the aviator takes significant
knowledge back to the aviation community when he returns to flying,
because of his ability to "dwell in the mind of the consumer."
The aviator not only understands the importance of specific types
of intelligence, he also understands the type of knowledge the
intelligence shop needs from the aviators to do their jobs effectively.26
After establishing the content an organization and its customers
need, focusing on the context of the knowledge will shed further
light on knowledge areas where an officer can focus his efforts
to initiate process improvement.
What form does this knowledge take?
|Do we make decisions based on verbally passed
knowledge (telephone conversations, meetings, briefings, etc.)?
Do we make decisions using analyzed data?
Do we need a picture to strike the target?
Will the coordinates suffice?
Do we use trended data (graphs, pie charts, spreadsheets)?
How quickly do we need the knowledge?
|Which is better: faster or more accurate?
Which knowledge do we need first? Second?
When do we use knowledge?
Which sources provide us the same knowledge? Which is the
These boxes represent starting points for gauging the importance
of the knowledge an organization needs. They may not even be close
to the actual questions a unit asks to assess knowledge importance,
but they will undoubtedly shed light on a necessary process.
Documenting the knowledge identified here makes the exercise
practical; obviously conducting this exercise without establishing
the knowledge in a useable format is a waste of time. One can
archive this knowledge in a continuity book, but a computer-based
application provides the quickest access and easiest method to
update or correct content. The two most effective tools for documenting
this knowledge are web pages and spreadsheets. Web pages can display
the specifics about a customer in an easily understood narrative,
and offer the advantage of quickly accessing specific knowledge
through the use of a search engine. A spreadsheet offers flexibility
and utility to the knowledge tracking process, because the knowledge
gathered can be readily compared to other knowledge sources. Because
its so important to make knowledge quickly accessible to
everyone within an organization, the ideal solution is likely
a spreadsheet accessed through a web page, via a shared folder
on a common network drive, or a part of a larger database (also
networked for those who need it). Figure 2 provides an
example of how this spreadsheet might look.
Prior to sorties
Figure 2: Needs Assessment
The question marks in the table above indicate a lack of knowledge
that can be easily gained by talking to customers and other members
of the organization.
Step 2. Inventory the types of knowledge your organization
currently possesses or has reliable access to
As stated previously, an inventory of an organizations
current knowledge (which includes all knowledge the organization
can reliably access either from its own resources or from a source
external to the organization) compared to the knowledge an organization
needs (identified in step 1) highlight knowledge gaps that can
focus many basic leadership processes. The amount of time necessary
for taking an accurate inventory of the knowledge a unit possesses
will depend on the size of the organization. The suggestions provided
here focus on breaking the task into smaller projects, and on
ways to track down elusive types of information.
While the identification process allowed the unit to identify
the extent of battlespace knowledge necessary for successful
decision-making, this process allows a unit to recognize the level
of battlespace knowledge it actually possesses. The "delta"
between the two presents an opportunity for junior officers to
close these gaps, maximize their battlespace knowledge, and step
closer to achieving information and decision superiority. These
boxes suggest ways to approach this taskdecision-makers
engaging in the art of leadership can address the task as they
see fit, and fill in these gaps with as much or as little knowledge
as they need to consistently make good decisions.
Break the task into subtasks
|If youre looking across a unit, break
down the inventory task into sub-units, such as divisions,
branches, and flights.
Assign leadership to the inventory subtask forces
Begin with technology: the information in databases is easy
to account for
Tackle tacit knowledge second, when those being asked for
their knowledge understand the concept
Account for every category of organizational knowledge
|Remember knowledge can be functional, operational,
and contextualwhat does the unit possess
What are the organizations areas of expertise?
Where are the fields of expertise?
What unique knowledge do unit members possess?
What training have members been through?
Step 3. Translate tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge
and make knowledge grow
How many times have officers started a project from scratch,
spent a solid week on it, shown it to their operations officer
only to have him say "Thats great! We did the exact
same thing when I was at Offut!"? How many times have NCOs
hunted through databases on the weekend, trying to find out who
Private First Class Everests supervisor is, only to find
three names listed, none with phone numbers? How many times have
cell chiefs tried to find out who in the squadron has analytic
experience in South East Asia, but cant get a straight answer
because everyone seems to work the opposite shift of the chief?
This step focuses on making the knowledge identified and inventoried
in steps one and two accessible to decision-makers. Time is wasted
in each of the above scenarios because knowledge was not shared
or because it cannot be found. Missing or mismanaged knowledge
can slow or even halt the decision-making process, but avoiding
these scenarios is relatively easy to do. Someone always has an
answer to these dilemmas, probably a sharp Senior NCO who seems
to know everything the O-6 and the E-1 did over the weekend, what
their favorite foods are, and every assignment theyve ever
taken. If the junior officer happens to know this Senior NCO (and
if the NCO likes her), shes in luck: she has a reliable
source of tacit knowledge. However, if the NCO works the shift
opposite the officers his knowledge is uselessunless
its effectively shared with others.
Initiate Corporate Yellow Pages
Corporate yellow pages allow decision makers to
access the right knowledge at the right time.
Every text purporting to provide readers "practical
guidance" on knowledge management raves about "corporate
yellow pages," a simple though extremely effective means
of sharing knowledge. Like the yellow pages at home, corporate
yellow pages are a reference, annotating sources of knowledge.
The yellow pages at home provide access to someone who can fix
the electrical system in the Volkswagen; corporate yellow pages
allow decision makers to access the right knowledge at the right
time, for example they can provide access to someone on the other
shift who can help out with the South East Asian analytic problem.
Yellow pages not only provide decision-makers with the right information
at the right time, they minimize organizational information overload.
They can eliminate the unnecessary e-mailing of trip reports,
meeting minutes, and mission summaries to bosses who dont
even know if they need to read them.
While many units have built informational databases in the past,
only to see them fail, if managed properly, they are terrific
sources of information. One of the keys to success is to make
the database as accessible as possible.27 Obviously,
secure and privacy act information must be safeguarded, but why
cant everyone in the organization know that Sgt Hillary
is PFC Everests supervisor? Why cant everyone in the
Wing know that the 97th at Offutt was cited as having
the most diverse snack bar in the command? Corporate yellow are
full of information useless to many, but invaluable to the right
person at the right time. They allow decision-makers to extract
the information they need on demand.
Initiatives like the yellow pages suggested here fail because
leaders force their troops to maintain them, even if no
one sees the value. Little compares to the tedium of updating
massive databases, and very few commanders will willingly give
up their much needed information managers or systems experts to
do what could become a full time job. Making it a full time job
for one person, or making it an on-going requirement for a variety
of people in the unit will turn a good idea into a bureaucracy
everyone resents, and forcing people to use them will doom them
to non-use. "Knowledge workers, who create value [workers
creating and using information to improve the way they operatejust
about everyone in todays armed forces], dont like
systems. Customers, who pay for value, dont like systems
Like the knowledge inventory, these yellow pages should be networked,
made available on-line. The box below lists examples of knowledge
to list in an organizations corporate yellow pages.
Detailed training records
Biographical data on every unit member
Descriptions of unit "best practices"
Creating the database will take the most time, but implementing
simple rules for their use and maintenanceall current and
new members of the unit fill out basic biographical information
about themselves listing technical schools and areas of expertisewill
probably prove its value. Encouraging further development to make
even more practical (say, linking other internal documents the
unit maintains such as training progress databases), allowing
flexible use as it establishes itself as a tool, and eliminating
if becomes bureaucratic (i.e., no one uses it, or its too
tediousboth unlikely scenarios) will ensure that it only
adds value to operations.
Make Debriefing Matter of Habit
Debriefing is personal, responsive, and can be tailored
on the fly to a participants specific needs.
Another method for making tacit knowledge explicit to those
who can use it is engaging in debriefs. In their paper, "Cognitive
Skills for the Naturalistic Battlespace: a Human Performance Enhancement
Strategy for US Forces," Troy Thomas and Sam Grable argue
for a comprehensive enhancement strategy for US military members
to operate successfully in a "naturalistic setting characterized
by time, compression, uncertainty, and high stress."29
To successfully accomplish the mission, the authors offer several
simple, yet remarkable suggestions for developing the necessary
mental skills for such an environment. One effective tool is the
For the combat pilot, debriefings are an integral
part of any mission. In fact, training missions may be considered
successful, despite substandard flying, if the debriefing is excellent.
Often, more learning occurs during the debriefing than the actual
flight. In-depth debriefing skills are important because critical
learning points typically reside not in the first (and simplest)
level of detail (e.g. airspeed, visibility, etc.), but in the
underlying mental processes. For example, a debrief should include
discussions regarding what assumptions were made, where these
assumptions led, what critical cues were used, what was ignored,
what feedback was pursued, opportunities for process improvement,
and so forth. Good debriefings should expose assumptions and processes
that led to particular decisions and actions.30
The interaction between pilot and debriefer presents an extraordinary
learning opportunity for both officers, and by extending the debriefing
exercise to a variety of mission areas (post-exercise, post-project,
post-decision, etc.), a leader can foster an environment in which
the importance of thought and knowledge development becomes a
fundamental part of operations.
While not as inherently useful as the debrief itself, documenting
theses debriefs allows the pilot, the debriefer, and anyone responsible
for their training to re-use the knowledge emerging from the session
repeatedly. Trainers and planners can use this knowledge to build
realistic training or exercise scenarios (another human performance
enhancement strategy recommended by the authors). Anyone forced
to spend any classroom time in front of a computer knows how grueling
(and ineffective) computer-based training can be; debriefing is
personal, responsive, and can be tailored on the fly to a participants
In Leadership is an Art, Hermann Miller CEO Max DePree
writes that effective leaders are those who promote "empowerment,"
"teamwork," and "coaching" within their organizations,
which are cornerstones to knowledge management.31 This
personal responsiveness seems to be lacking in many organizations
that mindlessly throw technology at leadership issues,32
but good leaders employ technology in ways to make organizational
processes more human. While the Air Force Materiel Commands
Air Force Knowledge Management (AFKM), might initially come across
as another database networking information for web users, it really
focuses on fostering teamwork, empowerment, and coaching:
AFKM applies commercial knowledge management concepts and technologies
to address Air Force business problems and includes the following
components: lessons learned database, collaborative workspace
for communities of practice, and internet- based learning technology
to provide training via the Web. The objective is to enhance job
performance by integrating the corporate lessons learned from
past experience and current training technology in a collaborative
environment to support current and future projects.33
Designed and used primarily within the development and acquisition
communities, it is open to any Department of Defense user (accessing
the site from a ".mil" domain computer), and reviewing
will offer a browser further insight into the militarys
work with knowledge management concepts.
Build Communities of Practice
The practical corollary to this is to foster group
The AFMC web site description mentions the term communities
of practice. The phrase appears in a number of knowledge
management texts, and, put into operations, a community of practice
offers participants an informal, though active, opportunity to
learn, build knowledge, and increase skills "as in an apprenticeship
system."34 The obvious example of a community
of practice is the informal alliance between senior enlisted personnel
and their more junior troops in the form of mentorship. The Institute
of Research on Learning (IRL) studies how people learn, focusing
on learning in the Information Age. Over the last ten years, the
"fundamental finding in IRLs work is that learning
is a social activity
learning happens in groups."35
The practical corollary to this is to foster group learning.
Group learning exists quite openly somewhere in every organization,
but probably goes unnoticed since it is not generally a formal
piece of a units training plan. Say an Air Intelligence
Squadrons production flights primary concern is to
identify areas of dangerously configured surface-to-air missiles:
that shop shares (teaches) this knowledge with the target development
shop, which earns its paychecks identify targets designed to eliminate
high-level threats. At the same time, the target development shop
must be open and specific about the types of information they
need to develop meaningful targets. By better understanding the
targeting flights functions, a member of the intelligence
production flight becomes a far more valuable asset to the Air
Forceshe not only understands her sister flights mission
better, she can use this tacit knowledge about targeting if she
happens to deploy to another organization during a time of contingency.
How does a leader capture the human knowledge he fosters in these
informal professional exchanges? Junior officers are trained to
formalize a working group, to hold routine meetings, and to ensure
anyone who misses the meeting has access to the meeting minutes.
But this does not mean this idea leads to knowledge growth. The
junior officer should create an environment conducive to learning
knowledge that fills in the gaps of the needs assessment (steps
one and two). Adding the informal professional exchange to the
training plan, or making it another mandatory weekly meeting,
could very well undermine its intended results.
Thomas Stewart cites a study in which researchers studied two
major projects in a large American corporation. The first project,
a significant upgrade in the companys technology, was heavily
managed with routine meetings held "to keep everyone up to
speed." The other was a "radical innovation" involving
sessions that were extremely informal in nature. The heavily managed
team failed because it created an environment hostile to learning:
known knowledge was withheld because committee members either
mistrusted or disagreed with each other, or members simply did
not want to listen to one another. The informal group was "self-organizing
and succeeded wildly.36
Although the military, with its clearly defined chains of command,
is not exactly egalitarian, junior officers should focus on creating
relatively informal environments in which customs and courtesies
are adhered to, but in which every member of the group feels entitled
to voice his or her opinion. See the following sections for specifics
on actually doing this.
Step 4. "Foster Organizational Innovation"tying
it all together
By encouraging open communication and lateral thinking, junior
officers can explore new ways of getting the job done. Joint Vision
2020 calls on leaders to encourage innovation through experimentation
and to grant a "reasonable level of tolerance an idea fails."37
One cannot order her troops to engage in innovation, because "no
one has found a way to create creativity."38 But
one can empower troops to seek it, recognize it, and implement
"Knowledge written and stored in computers
is effective only about 20 percent of the time: you can either
read the operating instructions of your new video card for one
hour, or talk to a colleague for five minutes to figure out how
As already shown in the previous section, open organizations
allow communication to move readily between people and organizations,
and this leads to a growth in organizational knowledge. Quite
simply, "the real difference between frontrunners and pack
members in terms of innovation is the way in which they
organise their innovation processes
[this happens through]
better communication and steering of knowledge processes."40
Steering knowledge processes means leading efforts to document
known and needed battlespace knowledge. Better communication involves
making the right information available to the right people at
the right time, and building an organizational climate in which
knowledge is openly shared between the people with ideas and those
who can turn them into action.
Even if the boss claims she has an "open door policy,"
communication to her rarely flows openly because of a military
culture that places heavy emphasis on not circumventing the chain
of command. Although some organizations demand strict protocols
for communication, technology has already initiated a change in
the culture. While members previously needed chain-of-command
approval to attend an out-of-state meeting, the same meeting can
take place with little notice via video teleconferencing (VTC).
A junior enlisted member who might have previously avoided speaking
to the O-4, now feels relatively comfortable sending him an e-mail
note, and more than likely, the O-4 doesnt mind the open
communication, because he receives honest insight into a frustration
a number of the troops may share.
A simple quote points out the intuitively obvious benefit to
encouraging open communication. "Knowledge written and stored
in computers is effective only about 20 percent of the time: you
can either read the operating instructions of your new video card
for one hour, or talk to a colleague for five minutes to figure
out how it works."41 That sort of efficiency (perhaps
made possible by your organizational yellow pages) is worth noting.
But how does open communication lead to innovation? If a leader
is trying to minimize the amount of extraneous information floating
about an organization, shouldnt strict protocols be enforced?
To achieve excellence, Aristotle recommends a moderate approach
to all practices. Some units enforce strict military protocols
with the threat of disciplinary action, and all but the most confident
junior enlisted members will be frightened into silence with such
a policy. At the same time, too open a policy could lead not only
an unmanageable explosion of information within an organization,
but also to a climate in which customs, courtesies, and military
discipline are ignored.
Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, three of the "kings"
of knowledge management list several practical suggestions to
create open communication to encourage the growth of knowledge
and innovation, without making the communication unwieldy. Two
of their ideas are described here. Open communication does not
involve brainstorming sessions, orders to send new ideas to the
boss, or weekly "stand-ups" in which shop bosses speak
their minds. Rather, open communication comes from personal conversations
with the people who do the organizations work.42
Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonakasay leaders must first encourage
active participation in conversations, soliciting ideas on
where the organization is going, how it performs its mission,
and about its values. A good leader will know where to find answers,
going directly to those with the right functional knowledge in
the area in which he or she wishes to foster innovation.43
Second, the officer must establish conversational etiquette
to maximize the utility of conversations. Figure 3 contains eight
rules for managing a productive conversation that are readily
adaptable to staff meetings.44 These two steps will
give an officer a "taste" for the ideas in his or her
organization, and allow the leader to proceed as his or her leadership
|Avoid unnecessary ambiguity (do not conceal
a lack of knowledge)
Avoid exercising authority (do not use rank to steer conversations)
Avoid premature closure
Allow free and courageous speech
Fig 3: Conversational Etiquette
While fostering open communication encourages innovation,
applying a units knowledge laterally actually creates
new knowledge, which can be a component to innovation. Going back
to functional and operational knowledge, a junior officer can
apply his sections expertise (functional knowledge) and
his leadership experience (operational knowledge) to a new environment
(context), and in the process, innovates/creates new knowledge.
Several examples of this applied knowledge are listed below:
|An officer with strong project leadership skills
and two NCOs possessing substantial database development expertise,
wont innovate anything if they spend all of their time
building databases to track budget issues. They innovate when
they apply those same skills to track unit manning, maintenance
history, knowledge assets, etc.
|A crisis breaks out in Kosovo; war planners
in the Air Operations Center at Vicenza adapt lessons learned
in the Air Operations Center at Osan AB, Korea and quickly
gain air superiority.
|The lieutenant applies the lessons he learned
as the squadron snack officer (SNACKO) while stationed at
Offutt, assembles the most diverse snack bar at Buckley, and
quickly gains a reputation as the "Chubby Lieutenant."
Lateral knowledge, as the name implies, is knowledge gained from
sources close to, yet external to knowledge that an organization
possesses. It is the knowledge the production flight shares with
the targeting flight, the intelligence officer shares with the
pilot, the British maintenance officer with the American maintenance
Building lateral knowledge does not equate to innovation, it
is simply a method of encouraging it. This process is as human
as processes come. Computers do not nurture or facilitate innovation:
the process is a form of leadership, an art.
The practical suggestions presented in this paper
are merely a starting point for conducting knowledge-based operations.
They are only processes, algorithms for getting closer to an end-state
of decisional certainty. An officers personal leadership
styleperhaps an emphasis on "gut instinct" over
factswill certainly shade the degree to which he or she
engages in the practices described here. Achieving decision superiority
in an absolute sense is impossible, but these suggestions will
aid officers in recognizing what battlespace knowledge they possess,
and to leverage that knowledge to make the best possible decision
a scenario warrants. While achieving these visions across the
spectrum of military operations will take a larger, more general
effort than the one described here,45 officers embracing
these concepts will at least, if not "changing the world,"
lead with a better understanding of their organizations
knowledge, and attain a superior battlespace knowledge to the
one they currently possess.
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), Joint Vision
2020. (Pentagon, Washington D.C.: US Government Printing
Office, June 2000) p.11 Obviously important reading for any
military member, JV 2020 is interest reading, toowhile
it continues many of the themes introduced in JV2010 in 1996,
it really addresses some new material, and the context has shifted.
- Jerry Honeycutt, Knowledge Management Strategies. (Redmond,
WA: Microsoft Press, 2000) p. xvi.
- Thomas J. Stewart, Intellectual Capital. (New York,
NY: Doubleday, 1997) p. 162. Data-mining note (not included
in Stewarts work): Browsing through magazines such as
Information Weekly and Intelligent Enterprise
will impress any reader with the vast numbers of data-mining,
data-warehousing, and customer relations management software
available on the market.
- Technology, the information revolution, and Joint Vision 2020
justify this work, but these are really only a context in which
we conduct operations: what follows is a brief discussion of
applied knowledge, and how one translates knowledge to successful
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), "Concept for Future
Joint Operations: Expanding Joint Vision 2010" (Pentagon,
Washington, D.C., US Government Printing Office May 1997) Chapter
5, Section 9, p. 38.
- CJCS, p. 11.
- Ibid., p. 3.
- Ibid., p. 10.
- JCS, p.i.
- CJCS, 11-12.
- Ibid., p. 34.
- Ibid., p.36.
- In the business world, one can trace the roots of contemporary
KM theory studies initiated at several East Coast business schools
in the 1960s. In the early 1990s, the idea of knowledge really
began to take shape in the form of theories derived from case
studies of companies that successfully adapted to technologies
allowing users to accumulate and access information more rapidly
than ever before. People like Leif Edvinsson, Director of Intellectual
Capital at Skandia, a Swedish insurance company, pushed to actively
manage information and transform it into knowledgeand
in doing so, pioneered the use of knowledge to transform organizations
and processes to improve business. Books like Peter Senges
The Fifth Discipline (1990), Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka
Takeuchis The Knowledge Creating Company (1995),
Working Knowledge by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak
(1997), and Thomas Stewarts Intellectual Capital
(1997), inspired companies to buy knowledge management software,
systems, and consulting services.
- Wayne Applehans, Alden Globe, and Greg Laugero, Managing
Knowledge: a Web-Based Approach, (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley,
1999) p. 17 While not cited much, the authors of this text do
for corporate Knowledge Officers what this paper hopes to accomplish
on a smaller scale for junior officers: their writing is very
basic, and very practical. Compared to a growing number of competing
KM how-to" books, this text is very to the point:
it establishes their rationale for conducting KM early, and
then proceeds to a step-by-step approach to implementing it
within an organization.
- Gilbert Probst, Steffan Raub, and Kai Romhardt, Managing
Knowledge: Building Blocks for Success. (Chichester, UK:
John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2000) p. 15-16.
- Marine Corps Doctrine Publication (MCDP) 6, Command and
Control. (Washington, D.C: Department of the Navy, Headquarters
United States Marine Corps, 1996). Adapted from an illustration
titled "The Information Hierarchy," p. 67.
- MCDP 6, 1996, p 66-67.
- J Friso den Hertog and Edward Huizenga, Series on Technology
Management: The Knowledge Enterprise. (London: Imperial
College Press, 2000) p. 30.
- Ibid., p. 31.
- Ibid., p. 31.
- Stewart, p. 73.
- Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka p. 92-93.
- Stewart, p. 134.
- Ibid., p. 144.
- Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, p. 60.
- Interview with Major Dan Rodman, at the Marine Air Weapons
and Tactics School, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ, 24 August
- For technology enthusiasts, rest assured, your interests are
a driving force in KM, though a discussion of specific technologies
makes little sense in a practical introduction to employing
knowledge-based operations, because technologies are changing
too rapidly to make them worth documenting. Reliability is another
liability to discussing these cutting-edge technologies. Data-mining
software, "a merry band of technologies that includes artificial
intelligence (AI), predictive modeling, pattern recognition,
and visualization," holds great potential for delivering
the right knowledge to the right users at the right time, "does
not work miracles overnight." (Stodder, David, "Data
Mining: New Economy Wizardry?" Intelligent Enterprise,
29 September 2000, p. 14) This is still true, in spite of the
fact that (literally) hundreds of companies employing the nations
brightest minds and spending mind-boggling sums of venture capital
have been trying to fine-tune data-mining software for years.
Apparently, developing a successful piece of smart software
requires improving a tools ability to accurately retrieve
the information a user requests. The best search engines on
the market (and under development) produce accurate results
in only 3 of 5 data pulls. (Grushkin, Barry, "Context Dependency,"
Intelligent Enterprise, 29 September 2000, pg. 20). Once
developers learn to overcome a number of complexities (See Grossman
and Frieders Information Retrieval and Heuristics),
these tools may make our jobs infinitely easier. This is not
to suggest that human-based processes will allow for
the delivery of the correct knowledge to the correct users at
the correct time, 100 percent of the time. It serves more as
a warning that even deep budgetary pockets will not solve organization
inefficiencies with technology. While many junior officers work
to develop technologies to help us do our jobs more efficiently,
and although many can influence organizational budgetseven
as organizational commandersits probably safe to
say that none has the money to buy the software or networks
necessary to conduct successful, knowledge-based operations.
- Stewart, p.140.
- Troy S. Thomas and Sam Grable, "Cognitive Skills for
the Naturalistic Battlespace: a Human Performance Enhancement
Strategy for US Forces," Draft p. 1.
- Ibid., p. 16.
- Stewart, p. 50.
- Ibid, p. 48. At the dawn of the 20th Century, a
mature industrial age gave birth to Henry Ford and his successful,
massive assembly line attended to by a giant workforce. Comprised
of workers who were prodded along and encouraged to mimic the
unthinking efficiency of the machine parts of his auto-plant,
Ford incorporated the cutting edge management techniques of
Frederic Winslow Taylor whose scientific management called on
workers to become more machine-like. The US Military succeeded
similarly by industrializing its soldiers, sailors, and airmen,
driving them towards machine-like efficiency in technologically
marvelous tanks, ships, and airplanes.
- http://afkm.wpafb.af.mil/ This is Air Force Knowledge Management.
- Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, p. 179-180
- Stewart, p. 95.
- Ibid., 97-98.
- CJCS, p. 14.
- Coakley, Thomas P. Command and Control for War and Peace.
(Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1992)
p. 110. Coakley devotes an entire section (p. 111) to the impossibility
of creating creativity: "But no one has provided evidence
to contradict the poet John Yeats assertion: That
which is creative must create itself." Creativity appears
to be much a gift of God, Fate, or Chance as "art"
is. We can use the personality profiles developed by behavioral
scientists to try to select creative people to become leaders.
We can support strong curricula in literature and mathematics.
But we cant create creativity ex nihilo. To guarantee
a creative genius comparable to a Thomas Edison, a William Shakespeare,
a Frank Lloyd Wright, or a General Patton, we would have to
recreate the lives, environments, and experiences of those individuals.
And that of course is impossible."
- Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, p. 131.
- The Knowledge Enterprise, p. 56-57.
- Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, p. 131.
- Ibid., p. 132.
- Ibid., p. 132-134.
- Adapted from Von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, p. 135.
- One example of a broader effort is AFKM (http://afkm.wpafb.af.mil/),
described earlier in the paper.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document
are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the
official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense,
the United States Air Force or the Air University.
This article has undergone security and policy content review
and has been approved for public release IAW AFI 35-101.