I woke up early Friday morning to the news that five Dallas police officers had been murdered, and I immediately started frantically texting the cops who are part of my church to see if they were safe. When the first response came back–“I am here on the scene, but I am okay”–I was overwhelmed with gratitude. And then I felt guilty that I felt grateful, because the fact that my friends were safe necessarily meant that someone else’s weren’t. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it? We are all so nearsighted when it comes to suffering.
In fall 2003, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, giving him authority over what were the best-trained, best-equipped, and most-lethal special operators in the history of the world. And yet, these elite soldiers (Navy Seals, Delta Force commandos, etc.) were unable to stop impoverished jihadists from using the most basic technology to create mass murder in Iraq. Why? McChrystal’s answers have a lot to do with the realities of leadership in the 21st century.
Like most Americans, I’d heard of General Stanley McChrystal from his time in the headlines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’d seen a TED talk he’d given on leadership, but a few months ago I stumbled across a couple of interviews with General McChrystal on the Tim Ferris podcast that made me think: “This guy is impressive.” (You can find the long interview here and the much shorter follow-up here. Recommended.) On the podcast, General McChrystal and his former aide-de-camp Chris Fussell mention a book they’d written called Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. I read the book, which confirmed my impression: these are impressive guys.
The Problem with Al-Queda
When General McChrystal became commander of the JSOC in 2003, he was frustrated by his force’s apparent inability to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. McChrystal may have had enormous resources at his fingertips, but his special operators always seemed one step behind AQI’s terrorists, and the result was a bloodbath in Iraq, exemplified by the September 30, 2004 bombing of an opening ceremony at a brand new water treatment plant in Baghdad that killed 41 people, including 35 children.
The U.S. military easily defeated Saddam Hussein’s army during the invasion, but, in the occupation, a small number of impoverished terrorists were literally destroying the country. How?
The answer, General McChrystal learned, had to do with complexity.
Complexity and the Butterfly Effect
In everyday usage, we tend to use the words complicated and complex interchangeably, but in Team of Teams General McChrystal points out that in chaos theory complex refers to situations that are made up of innumerable possible causes and effects such that correctly forecasting or planning for an outcome is literally impossible. Weather, for example, is an example of a complex system.
The famous butterfly effect refers to the idea that, in a complex system, a very small change in input can produce a great difference in output: the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Africa might (but not necessarily) result in a hurricane in Brazil. The weather man can forecast the next hour’s weather with relative accuracy, but forecasting weather a week from now is just a guessing game, because weather is a complex system: there are just too many variables.
The modern world is a complex world, which means that small inputs can make a great difference. The problem for McChrystal and the U.S. was that AQI was set up to thrive in a complexity, whereas JSOC, for all its power and wealth of resources, was not.
Team of Teams
On the small level, the individual SEAL and Delta Force and intelligence teams at McChrystal’s disposal were excellent, but the organization of JSOC itself hindered cooperation and made adaptability impossible. The main strategic advantage of AQI, on the other hand, was precisely in its ability to adapt. McChrystal’s insight was that if JSOC was going to defeat AQI, it would have to become as adaptable as its enemy.
The individual SEAL and Delta Force and intelligence teams were already capable of adaptability, which is why there were so effective; McChrystal’s reform was to get them working together as a team of teams. He did this by constantly pushing authority down the chain of command, even when that meant relatively junior officers were making decisions with huge national security implications. He required each of the various groups in his command to send one elite operator to work with the other groups, so that trust began to be built between teams. He conveyed a daily briefing that involved hundreds of participants (via video) from all over the world so that information could be shared as widely as possible. Over time, these and other reforms began to enable the JSOC to effectively adapt to AQI’s tactics, and one of the stories McChrystal tells in the book is how these reforms enabled JSOC to track and kill Zarqawi in 2006.
Team of Teams is an interesting, thorough book (I’ve only referenced a very small part of its content here), but I’m not totally convinced by its argument. General McChrystal and his co-authors argue that in our complex world, a great team or team of teams is a greater strategic advantage than a great leader. I agree with that, as far as it goes, and I think the insights in the book about how to create an organizational culture that is adaptable and resilient are helpful. But, I can’t help thinking that part of the story of the book is also that it takes a great leader to create that kind of organizational culture. Maybe the kind of leader who could lead that kind of change would end up thriving in any situation, complex or not. The Admiral Nelsons of the world might just make any team successful. A team is important, but a team requires a leader. As Bill Hybels likes to say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” As I said, the more I read General McChrystal’s book, the more I thought, “This guy is impressive.”
Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell
★★★ worth reading
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One of my concerns here in Fox and Hedgehog land is language. Language matters, because language expresses and enables thought. The right words used in the right way can help us express exactly what we want to express. One of our occasional features here on the Hedgeblog will be about the proper use of words; I want to help you avoid the mistake of using one word when you ought to use another. In our first installment, I’m talking about the words “uninterested” and “disinterested.” What’s the difference?
Today, people often use the word “disinterested” when what they really mean is “uninterested.” The two words should not be interchangeable: disinterest means something different than uninterest. Disinterest does not mean a lack of interest or curiosity; rather, a disinterested party is one that is impartial, that has no stake or interest in the argument.
So, e.g., I am uninterested in the outcome of The Bachelorette: i.e., I don’t care and I don’t want to care.
To cite another example: a judge in a courtroom should be disinterested but not uninterested.
Hillary Clinton and James Comey
FBI Director James Comey was clearly not uninterested in Hillary Clinton’s emails; a better question: was Director Comey disinterested?
See why language matters?
I’m not picking on the Democrats; I don’t know anything about indictments and security clearances and the like–the Clinton email example is just one picked from today’s headlines.
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As Benjamin Franklin left the deliberations at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia stopped and asked the old man: “Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin replied, “A republic, madam–if you can keep it.”
This republic that Franklin and the other founders gave us isn’t inevitable: it is a precious gift that must be tended and cultivated, like a garden. On this Fourth of July, I’m thinking about the gift I’ve received to be a citizen of this republic and the stewardship of the people who passed that gift on to me, and I’m thinking about my responsibility in turn to pass it on to the children who will come after me.
A sacred responsibility.
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The Battle of the Somme began exactly 100 years ago today, July 1, 1916. By day’s end, the British Army alone would suffer over 57,000 casualties, and 20,000 of His Majesty’s young soldiers lay dead in the filthy mud. That obscenity is worth reflecting on today.
Progress is a Lie
We modern people are so arrogant. We believe that because we can split the atom and transplant the kidney that we are more advanced than the people who came before us. We believe in Progress. In fact, we worship it.
But Progress is a lie. The Somme is the result of Progress.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, all the right sort of people–cultured and cosmopolitan–knew that man was progressing toward a glorious future, and that scientific knowledge would enable us to obtain greater and greater mastery over the physical world. However, in their Promethean arrogance the smart set overlooked the stubborn fact that scientific knowledge might give us mastery over the physical world, but it does nothing to give us mastery over ourselves; splitting the atom and transplanting the kidney doesn’t make us wise.
Modernity Began at The Somme
The late literary critic (and decorated WWII combat veteran) Paul Fussell believed that modernity began on July 1, 1916. That first day of slaughter at the Somme was the beginning of a century of slaughter. Mass graves, pointless killing: that’s Progress, and that’s who we are.
The Somme, 100 Years Later
100 years later, we have the iPhone and the Global Positioning System and the defibrillator. Today, all the right sort of people know that humankind is progressing toward a glorious future, and that death and disease will find their end in Silicon Valley. The inconvenient history of the Somme, if we choose to acknowledge it at all, is just one more example of the pitiful ignorance of past generations. Unlike them, however, we have Progress, and Progress will make us perfect. Progress is our God.
So much for progress.
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“Be thankful you don’t have to read resumés everyday: it’s depressing.” So said an HR professional to me today. What she meant was that very few of the resumés she reads come without grammatical and spelling errors. Our lack of grammatical precision bothers me because I don’t believe grammar is just a series of arbitrary rules; I believe grammar affects thought. So here, in the first of what may very well be a long-running (and doubtless highly popular) segment in Fox and Hedgehog land, is a brief lesson on grammar and the proper use of i.e. & e.g.
Why Grammar Matters
One of my literary heroes is the stubborn English socialist writer George Orwell. I admire Orwell because of his insistence that language matters, because, as he argues in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” language either obscures or provides clarity. Insisting on precision in language and grammar is not just pedantry, and Orwell writes that he objects to the idea that “any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes.” Rather, language shapes our thoughts so that
an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly…. [my emphasis]
from “Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell
Grammar matters because grammar is about clarity. It is important to say exactly what you want to say, and not to say what you don’t want to say. Grammar helps us say what we want to say.
I.e., it matters that we get right the difference between i.e. and e.g.
The Slave Who Invented Abbreviation
Several of the grammatical abbreviations we use today were invented over 2,000 years ago by a brilliant Roman slave named Marcus Tullius Tiro. Tiro was born a slave in the household of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullis Cicero, and was Cicero’s close confidante and personal secretary until Cicero’s assassination in 43 B.C. Cicero was a great orator, and Tiro would take notes of Cicero’s speeches in the Roman Forum so they could be published around the Roman Republic. (In recognition of Tiro’s devotion and service, Cicero gave him his freedom in 53 B.C.) To make note-taking easier, Tiro invented a shorthand method that was still used by European monks until the 18th century, and part of that method included the abbreviations that we still use today, e.g., i.e. and e.g., as well as an early version of the ampersand, &.
i.e. is Latin for id est, “that is.” When you see i.e. in a sentence, say “that is.”
e.g. is Latin for exempli gratia, “for the sake of an example.” When you see e.g. in a sentence, say “for example.”
i.e. vs. e.g
These 2 Latin abbreviations do not mean the same thing. E.g.:
There are lots of ridiculous shows on television, e.g., The Bachelor.
means something different than
Last night I saw a commercial for the most ridiculous show on television, i.e., The Bachelor.
In the first example, The Bachelor is just one of the many ridiculous shows on television, whereas in the second example, I want to say that The Bachelor is the most ridiculous show on television.
See the difference?
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Almost everything that really matters takes time. Marriage, friendship, family, character, wealth, legacy–these things take decades. Play the long game.
The following is a guest post (my first ever) from my friend and fellow Mungarian Mike Pratt. Mike and I have been having a friendly argument about social media: is it mainly helpful, harmful, or neutral? I’m increasingly of the opinion that it does more harm than good, but Mike doesn’t agree. Here’s what Mike thinks.
Andrew asked me to write a guest post on this blog in response to my taking issue with his argument. It’s not that I think his points in his first post and subsequent follow-up post are entirely wrong, but I’ll argue they have omissions and thus fail to convince. I will counter his argument and offer an alternative framework for viewing this thing called social media.
Before I start I’d like to make one side point: I also think Andrew’s statement:
“What has your attention is what has your worship. What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.”
is gross generalization of the meaning. As Keller puts it
“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…”
To simply have your attention is not necessarily bad or false worship. When it has all of your attention, in place of other, more important things (first and foremost, God) then it becomes an idol of worship. Thoughts can go to many things and not render those things worship. Thank God or my daydreaming is convicted!
Now to the Main Topic
This analogy is by no means perfect but I think it’s a decent framework to look at the issue. As you read each blurb on these four substances, ponder in your mind which one you think is most analogous to social media.
With a few exceptions, soda is viewed as a relatively benign substance to be enjoyed. In small quantities, it’s clearly harmless and even for regular users, there have been few, if any, documented cases of extreme adverse health consequences. It is accepted that soda is not even remotely hazardous like any of the other 3 substances in this analogy.
Given the alcohol contained in wine, it’s a step up from soda in that it can be abused and in extreme use cases, is addictive and can have serious health consequences. The Bible celebrates wine in measured doses (wedding at Cana) and also condemns its abuse (drunkenness.) Many people drink wine. Many choose not to.
This seriously addictive and controlled substance is a ruiner of lives when abused. It is also extremely beneficial in tightly controlled use cases (post surgical pain relief) It is highly controlled because it is so addictive as well as misused (leading to abuse).
There are no beneficial uses. Highly addictive. Bad bad bad.
So what is Facebook, then?
One man’s opinion:
It’s not soda. I think, to Andrew’s point, there are many people who are hooked on the stuff. “Hooked” in this case being defined as “they use it so much that it takes away from the lives they normally led in a detrimental way or at the expense of basic things”
It’s not Oxy. That implies a very limited, positive use case like Oxy which is just not true. A significant number of social media users engage on their platform(s) of choice in positive and beneficial ways. The government does not (nor should) control use of the platforms to prevent a possible mass wave of harmful addiction because with free use, the facts are that only a minor set of users qualify as “harmfully addictive.”
It’s not Heroin. That presumes there are NO beneficial uses of social media and while many do think that, those folks probably think all soda is a mind-control beverage that Pepsi uses in cahoots with the government.
It’s wine. There are plenty of beneficial, everyday uses of Facebook. Can it get out of hand? Sure. Can you “drink too much”? Sure. Should some people give up drinking? Definitely. The key is to look at what you “drink” and why. Does it rule your life? Are you grumpy without a “drink” or do you love a “glass” with a good meal or when out with friends? Andrew posted a picture of everyone in line at an airport on their phones (presuming that it was a “wrong” state of the world) Replace everyone in that picture with a paperback (Google search images and you will find plenty pre-Facebook!) The devices were simply being used as boredom elimination devices. I don’t think that picture was indicative of the eroded state of the world.
A Word on Facebook’s (or Coke’s) Intentions
Coke wants you to buy Coke Zero. Coke Zero is not medically addictive. You may think Coke wants to “addict” you but it doesn’t matter. They can’t. They will do everything they can to get you to buy it. They should. That’s their business. Blaming Facebook for “not caring about the consequences” is like blaming <insert your favorite brewery or winery> for not caring about the consequences of having a glass. They inform you to drink responsibly and it can be argued that Facebook should not need to place a warning label that you might spend too much time in their web app.
So, I’ll leave you with sage advice: Don’t drink and post!
The above was a guest post by Mike Pratt. (Click here to subscribe to regular updates from this blog.) Mike is:
- A Mungarian! (Member of Munger Place Church.)
- The CEO of technology startup Panamplify
- Founder & President of professional org Digital Dallas
- A former soldier, wall street trader, marketing exec and non-believer
- Check out Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepratt
- Email Mike: firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there a limit to tolerance? A friend of mine put that question to me this afternoon, in response to last week’s post on tolerance. My answer: No. Here’s why.
The Roots of Tolerance
Tolerance is simply the social recognition of a fundamental truth: all people are completely free to choose to believe and do whatever they want to believe and do. There are no exceptions to this principle. This truth is not dependent on whether laws and governments recognize it; this truth is simply true.
Yes, governments and societies try to constrain the behavior of the people under their power, but they cannot actually remove free choice from their people–all they can do is make it more or less likely that people freely choose this or that action.
As I argued last week, tolerance has its roots in the character of God: God created us as free creatures and allows us to exercise that freedom, for good or ill.
I don’t think there is a limit to tolerance because I don’t think there is a time when God takes away our freedom to choose.
But Actions Have Consequences
We are all free to believe and do whatever we choose, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. Actions have consequences. I’m free to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, but I cannot avoid the consequences of my freely chosen actions. Actions have consequences.
Doesn’t God’s Tolerance Have a Limit?
In the Bible, we read how God eventually allowed the Israelites to be conquered by their pagan neighbors as a consequence of their continued disobedience. I don’t think this is an example of the limits of God’s tolerance, however. Rather, I think God’s tolerance never wavered: he always allowed the Israelites to freely choose to accept or reject him. But, although God’s forbearance (a synonym of tolerance) never ran out, the Israelites’ actions eventually caught up with them. Their actions led to the Exile. Certain actions lead to certain consequences, the way day inexorably follows night.
What About Human Law?
As humans, we seek to constrain certain behaviors precisely because we know that people are always free to choose. When we lock up the serial murderer, we are not suddenly denying his freedom to choose, but acknowledging it: we know that if we do not lock him up, he may very likely continue to freely choose murder. Actions have consequences and human societies impose various consequences on various behaviors, but those consequences do not change the fundamental fact on which the principle of tolerance rests, namely that people are always free to choose.
Our True Limit
God’s tolerance does not have a limit, but our lives are limited: we are limited by the choices of our actions, and we are limited by our mortality. None of us can choose to be exempt from the consequences of his choices, and none of us can choose to be exempt from death.
Sooner or later, all our actions catch up to us.
P.S. Why Does This Matter?
Tolerance recognizes that it’s never too late for anyone–all people can choose to turn towards God or away from God up until their last breath. (And maybe beyond their last breath–who knows?) Because I can’t take away someone’s free will–even by force–it means that the pressure is off: I can’t force anyone to believe what I believe. I can’t make anyone believe anything, but I can persuade her through my words and actions to freely choose the Truth I’ve chosen.
Which is a sacred privilege, when you think about it.
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As focused attention becomes rarer and rarer in our distracted culture, the people who cultivate focused attention will find themselves becoming more and more valuable. In other words, you can’t afford NOT to be doing deep work. This is the thesis of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a book that I cannot recommend highly enough. Here’s why.
Deep Work: A Definition
Cal Newport, computer science professor at Georgetown University, defines deep work in this way:
Deep Work: professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
In contrast with deep work is shallow work:
Shallow Work: noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.
Most knowledge workers spend most of their time engaged in shallow work–email, anyone?–so that, though they may be busy, they are not productive.
The people who are writing the best-selling books, making the blockbuster movies, creating the irresistible advertising campaigns, winning the major tournaments, and leading the market-beating companies, these are the people who are doing deep work (whether they realize it or not). Deep work makes a difference.
The Deep Work Hypothesis
The prevalence of shallow work in our culture leads to Newport’s deep work hypothesis.
The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy [and becoming valuable because it is becoming rare–AF]. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
Newport also argues that deep work actually makes people happier. As someone who has certainly spent a day being busy without being productive, I know that he’s right: I’m happier when I’m able to focus.
So, if you want to thrive in our knowledge work economy and if you want to be happier while doing it, you need to learn how to do deep work.
The Deep Work Rules
Newport has come up with what he calls The Rules of Deep Work.
- Work Deeply
- Embrace Boredom
- Quit Social Media
- Drain the Shallows
1. Work Deeply
Deep work is something we can learn how to do. Focused attention is not something you can just turn on or off–it’s something that must be trained and cultivated, like a muscle. Just as someone who spends his time sitting on the couch eating Doritos and watching television cannot overnight become a marathon champ, neither can someone who spends his time like that be immediately good at deep work. Deep work requires practice and planning.
2. Embrace Boredom
Internet tools (social media, on-demand video, infotainment sites, etc.) have taught our minds to need constant stimulation, but deep work requires focused attention, and our need for shallow stimulation will undermine our ability to do deep work. Therefore, we need to embrace boredom. It’s good to resist the urge to pull out your smart phone when waiting in line at the post office: our minds need boredom.
3. Quit Social Media
You knew this was coming, right? Newport makes the argument that people who are actually producing deep work (best-selling authors like Michael Lewis, e.g.) produce deep work because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by social media.
I know lots of people believe that social media is like alcohol–to be used and enjoyed in moderation. I wonder, though, if social media is more like heroin: addictive and distracting for everyone. (UPDATE: In conversation, I could say something provocative like that and you’d understand from my jocular tone what I was trying to convey, but I realize that, if you just read those words, they come across differently. My church actively uses social media (and I use it, too) and I have many friends who work in social media marketing; if I really believed that social media was the same thing as heroin, I’d stop using it immediately. I think social media marketing is necessary in our culture. My point is just that I think all of us are much more easily distracted than we want to admit.)
4. Drain the Shallows
By “drain the shallows,” Newport means that we should aggressively eliminate the non-essential from our working lives. For example, he gives practical tips on how to cut down on email, a major source of shallow work for most people.
Why I Need This Book
About 45 times a year, year after year, my professional responsibilities require me to create a brand-new, relevant, engaging, and faithful presentation and then deliver it in front of an average live audience of about 1,000 people, each one of whom is judging me savagely (even if they seem to be nice people!) on that presentation. In addition to that, I also create multiple smaller presentations and essays through the year that also need to be original, relevant, helpful, and faithful. In our distracted world, it seems as if everything but the truly important is screaming LOOK AT ME! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!, and so I’ve come to the following conclusion:
if I don’t learn to do deep work, I’m not going to make it.
Deep Work is one of the most insightful, practical, and challenging books I’ve read about work and creativity…maybe ever. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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