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How to Become a Grand Strategist (unpublished)

Wrote it for Esquire back in the fall of 2008 at the request of an editor there, but it never got published. Recalled it today when queried in a lengthy interview with a member of the CNO's SSG and realized I never posted it anywhere, so I do so now - just for my own personal recordkeeping:


How to Become a Grand Strategist (draft title)


There are four fundamental reasons why American grand strategy matters more right now than any other nation’s grand strategy.

The first is that the American example is provided the source code for this era’s version of globalization, which superseded the colonial model of world integration previously pursued by the Eurasian imperial powers.  These United States represent the oldest and most successful multinational economic, political and security union on the planet, a collection of states whose integration has been so successful and so deep that we forget the fantastic journey that brought us to this present state of being.  We should not, because it is our essential gift to world history, currently finding its replication—finally—in the European context from which we sprang.  The success of that model, the European Union, has made it the second great source code for the future of globalization.  By both improving on and falling short of the original, it provides the world a much-needed contrast (i.e., “go slow” globalization compared to our “go fast” model) in these tumultuous economic times. 

The second reason is that America currently serves as the sole historical bridge between settled Europe’s post-military, post-nationalistic achievement of stable identity and rising Asia’s pre-military, pre-nationalistic pursuit of the same.  In other words, while Europe has evolved past the great sources of 20th century conflict (militarism, nationalism, ideologies in general), Asia’s emerging powers—save for Japan—are rapidly approaching these historical phases, largely clinging to the hope that comprehensive marketization of their economies alone will so integrate their societies with the larger world as to render these traps obsolete.  The trade-off, however, is substantial for the planet as a whole, because in so rapidly integrating with the global economy, Asian nations have turbo-charged globalization’s dynamics to the point of resurrecting fears of zero-sum competitions among great powers for resources, markets and military allies in the decades ahead.  They’ve resurrected the specter of empires.  Having avoided that historical path through our pursuit of an “empire of ideals,” America remains at once militarily empowered and still ideologically committed enough to use that power in defense of the global system we did so much to create.  Europe is no longer able to play that muscular role and Asia—save Putin—seeks to avoid the temptations associated with it.

Thirdly, America’s ability to maintain its status as global military Leviathan is far from assured absent a clear grand strategy that articulates the rationale for such a role.   That articulation is what sustains the American public’s support for the regular employment of that force, while dispelling the fears of the rest of the world regarding the use of military might that is often seen as arbitrary or self-aggrandizing.  The “sweet spot” to be targeted is thus a vision that says to both Americans and the rest of the world: “These are the mutually agreed upon conditions under which U.S. military forces are deployed to improve the global security environment.”  Does this give the world a say in how we use military force?  Yes.  But it defines more the “ceiling,” or those lines we shall not cross, than the “floor,” the minimum effort we are compelled to make.  Frankly, America’s fears have always tended more toward the higher boundaries (Have we gone too far?) than the lower ones (Should we be doing more?), given our overall wealth, geographic security and sense of duty to others.  And so, we desire constraints on our tendency to go overboard just as the world does.  If reasonably achieved, such a grand strategy both preserves and sanctifies our status as sole global military superpower.

Finally, America’s grand strategy matters most right now primarily because it is so off-kilter from globalization’s current trajectory.  We’re fighting a “global war” that no one else on the globe seems to recognize, against enemies whose power we consistently exaggerate to the point of provoking disbelief among even our closest allies.  America seems paranoid and belligerent at exactly the historical moment when the world is going our way. And when that exemplar, sporting the world’s biggest gun, seems so disturbed about global trends, it sows the seeds of uncertainty across the international system by suggesting that we don’t have a clue about what lies ahead.  Neither Europe nor Asia can fill this vision void, because while each can offer models (Europe’s integration of states, China’s national development), none other than the United States of America can offer a trusted mechanism for eliminating the risk of debilitating conflict—however scaled.  The price of war determines all other prices in the global marketplace.  America either backs those “securities” or they—much like our financial markets--will become subject to wild fluctuations. 

In the tumultuous times since 9/11 sent our world spinning that much faster, America has searched for a grand strategic vision to animate our spirit and guide our actions, and it has failed.  When we should have inspired hope, we have stoked fears, and where we should have built bridges, we have erected walls.   

We simply have to do better.  Globalization is currently held in the grip of its worst financial crisis ever, arguably the first truly global catastrophe of our networked age that unfolds—layer upon complex layer—like the system-wide perturbation of our worst Y2K fantasies.  If there was any remaining doubt that the world’s great powers either all swim or all sink together in this interconnected global economy, then this unprecedented contagion has erased it.  Globalization is no longer a national choice but a global condition.

So how do we develop appropriate grand strategy for this day and age? 

Part of the problem is that, since the Cold War’s end, America has largely gotten out of the business of thinking in terms of grand strategy.  I mean, when you’re the system’s sole superpower, your grand strategy would logically seem to consist of making sure you remain #1 and little else.  In strict military terms, that goal was both sufficient and easily achieved.  But once we discard our neocon blinders and widen our vision to take in the full panoply of globalization’s growing complexity and all the rising great powers it has generated, that tendency to reduce grand strategy to mere, “hard power” dominance seems woefully inadequate—especially to this now insolvent Leviathan.

So, in terms of building up America’s capacity to generate and sustain a lasting grand strategy, we need to generate enough leaders with the full range of skill sets required for this crucial task.

What is grand strategy?  A simple definition is to say that, as far as a world power like America is concerned, a grand strategy involves first imagining some future world order within which our nation’s standing, prosperity, and security are significantly enhanced, and then plotting and maintaining a course to that desired end while employing—to the fullest extent possible—all elements of our nation’s power toward generating those conditions.  Naturally, such grand goals typically take decades to achieve, thus the importance of having a continuous supply of grand thinkers able to maintain our strategic focus.

In that vein, let me run you through some of the attributes and skills that I’ve come across in my own study of American grand strategy and strategists, along with my own attempts (alas) to play that role within the U.S. national security community for the last two decades. 

We’ll start with some basics and then move on to the more complex skills, finally examining the current market for grand strategy.


Prepare ye the way of the grand strategist

First, it pays to have a happy childhood, not a perfect one, but certainly not one that leaves you permanently damaged. You can’t see too far down the road if you’re always in a defensive crouch. Child psychologists say that every child grows up thinking the world is exactly like his or her family, so tough childhoods yield dark, pessimistic worldviews while pleasant ones generate the sort of can-do optimism required of somebody with the natural ambition to shape the world for the better. Grand strategy isn’t merely about bad futures to be prevented.  That’s called contingency planning.  Rather, grand strategy is about accessing the best possible future, one in which your nation can be all it can be.

Second, birth order matters.  First-borns tend to be the chief executives, meaning they’re often in charge of implementing grand strategic designs, while the “babies” of the family tend to be the vision hamsters, happily spinning out new ideas from their wheel.  So if you think of grand strategy as a sort of religious triptych, it’s the younger siblings that play prophet, generating the word, while it’s the older ones who end up assuming the role of deliverer.  Grand strategists need to be natural salesmen, or persuaders of great artistry, and you find that emotional IQ further down the family ranks, among those forced to charm their way in a world of more powerful siblings. 

Third, keep it gay.  Since the British economist John Maynard Keynes, arguably the greatest grand strategist of the 20th century, was a homosexual, being gay can’t be described as a handicap.  In fact, that sense of living outside the accepted mainstream is an occupational advantage, however it’s artistically achieved, for it gives you the intellectual cojones to imagine future worlds that conventional wisdom judges as “inconceivable!”  Holistic views of the future require a deep ability to see life from a wide variety of angles, otherwise you’ll be constantly flabbergasted by all those “irrational actors” who pop up in opposition to clear logic of the path you’ve constructed.

Doing a complete 180, it’s also highly beneficial to end up married with children.  Successful marriage forces constant personality adaptation, or the ability to rationalize your way to happiness despite the ongoing challenges of daily life.  Grand strategists need to be happy warriors, because temporary setbacks and roadblocks constantly abound in any long-term quest to shape world order.  Having kids is important because they connect you personally to downstream futures, meaning, in the long run, we won’t all be dead.  Bonus points for interracial marriage and/or adoption, because nothing forces you out of your comfortable skin more thoroughly.

Beware the mid-life crisis.  Grand strategy, like youth, is largely wasted on the young.  It’s your middle years when you’re most able to process complexity in all its . . . uh . . . complexity, but that’s also the timeframe when people are most likely to suffer depression, or the ultimate personal challenge of rationalizing lost dreams versus remaining possibilities.  Processed well, your middle years can turbo-charge your mental skills, moving you past mere analysis into true synthesis—the hallmark of grand strategic thinking.  Done badly, you’ll find yourself alone in that red Miata, world-weary cynicism in tow, driving to pick up your kids on the alternate weekend.


The grand strategist as personality type

Ego comes first.  You can’t be a grand strategist without a sizeable ego.  Why?  The more successful you become in spreading your vision, the more often you’ll be called a complete dumb ass by total strangers.  Grand visions of better futures are—intellectually speaking—the fattest possible target for deflating criticism.   Everyone and anyone can name that “one thing you’ve clearly overlooked!”  The trick is, to spread vision, you need to remain ultimately accessible, especially to young minds you seek to capture, and they tend to be, when unconvinced, the most disrespecting audience possible.  So a thick skin is a must, along with the confidence that allows you to resist dumbing down your material in the face of initial poor sales.  As a contemporary said of Keynes, “He never dimmed his headlights.”  When you think in terms of decades, you gotta stick with the high-beams.

Optimism reigns supreme.  Noted futurist Peter Schwartz declares, “optimists are not people who expect no challenges,” but rather are those who “believe that challenges can be overcome.”  Grand strategists tend to be more “fox” than “hedgehog,” meaning they generate many possible solutions to a particular problem instead of always reaching for the most comfortable, conventional answer—hence their confidence in being able to work around any one road block.  They are rationalizers of the highest order, such that virtually any outcome can be cast as yet another indication that “everything is going according to my plan!”  Megalomania is an occupational hazard (see Richard Nixon), best treated with a self-deprecating sense of humor (Abraham Lincoln).

The closet introvert.  Alexander Hamilton possessed the classic split personality of a grand strategist:  the charismatic winner of hearts and minds who, as intellectual loner, took perverse pride in standing against the crowd.  Grand strategists are the Groucho Marx of the intelligentsia:  desiring mass acceptance while avoiding any club that might accept them as a member, they seek to steer conventional wisdom while escaping its stultifying grasp.  As such, they’re a weird mix of benevolence and intolerance in their relationships:  despite being the acquaintance of thousands, they possess few close friends (e.g., Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt).  Expert at getting others to understand their ideas, they still view themselves as lonely, persecuted visionaries (Nixon, along with one of his idols, Woodrow Wilson). 

The insatiable sponge.  Strategic thinkers are curious about everything and everyone—Teddy Roosevelt being the exemplar.  They read widely and possess tremendous memories for people they’ve met and stories they were told.  They have a genuine interest in popular pursuits, and befitting their high emotional intelligence, they exhibit a remarkable empathy for people unlike themselves.  As Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote of Lincoln, he had “the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.”  Ironically, it is that intense empathy that affords them great equanimity in the face of danger—even disaster.  Armed with this knowledge, they are able to distance themselves from the dynamics of crisis.  Grand strategists are rarely surprised but often saddened by the course of human events.  They see a world of “when’s,” not “if’s.”


Educating the grand strategist 

Beautiful minds.  Grand strategists tend to view the world horizontally, rather than vertically.  They connect dots naturally, recognizing processes and patterns before others.  They thrive on exposure to the new as opposed to deep study of the familiar.  They tend to learn “how” over “what,” and prefer to teach themselves than to be taught formally by others.  They are most interested by the intersections of knowledge (i.e., the Medici effect), or where different domains overlap with one another.  They have an innate capacity to discern force from friction, so they spot underlying causes without being distracted by symptoms.  Take, for example, Theodore Roosevelt’s ability to dissect the great social and economic issues of his day from the perspective of a self-taught naturalist/environmentalist.  He understood politics as a struggle of the fittest, yet sought to level those playing fields—both at home and internationally—so as to avoid overly self-destructive and therefore unsustainable competition.

Natural translators.  The best practical preparation for becoming a grand strategist is to learn as many languages as possible—another legendary TR skill.  Studying languages—both actual and technical—teaches you how to master new vocabularies and the logic that underlies them.  In a world of increasingly specialized lexicons for almost every profession, that’s a huge skill.  Studying language immerses you in the thought processes of others, giving you different lenses for viewing the world.  It puts you in the other guy’s shoes, which is crucial for out-of-the-box thinking.  Language study also boosts your skills at mimicry, because to speak Russian or Chinese, for example, you’ve got to act a bit Russian or Chinese.  If you really want to connect with foreign leaders and audiences, you have to get inside their comfort zone, and one of the best ways to do that is to play the part.  Pope John Paul II was a more recent master of this stage art, along with JFK (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) and Reagan (“Doveri, no proveri”/”trust but verify”). 

The softer sciences.  Grand strategists are more naturally located in the so-called softer sciences of political science (Wilson, Henry Kissinger), economics (Keynes), history (TR), and especially law (Hamilton, Lincoln).  Indeed, when hard scientists wade into the fray, it’s often with a moralistic bent that’s difficult to stomach, because they typically effect such conversions late in their careers, often out of great anger at the injustices of the political world.  So while harder scientists often make the best dissidents (e.g., physicist Andrei Sakharov, mathematicians Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Anatoli Scharansky) and caustic regime critics (like the linguist Noam Chomsky), they’re rarely a good source for grand strategic thinking.  Grand strategy essentially involves political struggle at a global/system level, so it’s best practiced as an art of the possible as opposed to a design problem logically solved through number crunching.

The right credentials.  Generally speaking, a graduate degree gets you inside the door of participating institutions and government agencies, but a PhD is required to avoid any glass ceilings later on.  Law degrees equate to a PhD, but an MBA ranks somewhat lower.  As a rule, a PhD from anywhere beats a graduate degree from somewhere.  Credentializing experience includes stints in the government, the military, or international investment banking.  For cachet, it’s hard to beat an Ivy League PhD (like uber-journalist Fareed Zakaria) or a premier teaching position at one (see law prof Philip Bobbitt).  Of course, the King Kong today is arguably 4-star army general and commander of Central Command, David Petraeus (PhD Princeton), who seems intent on checking every power-job box on the list.  Increasingly, we see the premier legacy artists (e.g., Kissinger, James Baker) wielding their talents in the private sector following extensive government stints.  Befitting this frontier-integrating age of globalization, many of the world system’s biggest structural linkages are being built today between emerging-market governments, globe-spanning multinational corporations, sovereign wealth funds, and “universal” banks (meaning, those with both retail and investment divisions).    That’s where yours truly (Harvard PhD, 7 years in the Defense Department) plies his craft these days.  Finally, it’s de rigueur nowadays to publish a thick, lofty volume every 3-t0-5 years, and if they’re mega-bestsellers, like those of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, then you go to the head of the Davos line.  The problem with columnists as grand strategists, however, is that, due to the news-sensitive nature of their business, they tend to switch gears too frequently on topics to sustain a lasting vision. 


Grand strategist, strategize thyself

Plan for opportunism.  As knowledge worker guru, Peter Drucker, argued, “Successful careers are not ‘planned.’  They are the careers of people who are prepared for the opportunity because they know their strengths.”  The key distinction for the grand strategist is whether he’s adept at decision-making or more cut out for the adviser role.  In other words, are you a Nixon or a Kissinger?  Once you figure that out, it makes sense to ally yourself with your opposites—concentrating on your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses.  You want to collect these people as you advance throughout your career, using them to venture into as many fields as possible to build up your street cred, balancing time inside government with time in the private sector.  Because you can’t get rich in government (alas), success in the private sector is essential to building up the fuck-you! money that allows you to maintain that g0-ahead-and-fire-my-ass! bravado when you finally land your dream post in the administration of your choosing (right around the time your oldest kids head to college).  Sad to day, but if you really need that salary, it gets much harder to speak truth to power.

Seek out mentors.  Another Drucker truism:  “Most people think they know what they are good at.  They are usually wrong.  People know what they are not good at more often.”  Mentors are crucial for telling you what you’re good for and where you best slot in, so you want to collect as many of these as possible early in your career.  The world of grand strategy is full of mentor-protégé relationships.  Grand figures (e.g., Kissinger, Baker, Brent Scowcroft) typically spawn small networks among subsequent generations, because nobody moves up the ranks on their own.  Look at Dick Cheney’s decades-long dance with Donald Rumsfeld, stretching from the Ford administration (where Cheney succeeded Rummy as White House chief of staff) right through that of George W. Bush (where Rummy assumed Cheney’s former slot at the Pentagon).  The problem with this reality, of course, is the tendency toward groupthink within the various lineages.  As such bad habits can be passed on inappropriately.  Good example:  Brent Scowcroft’s “honest broker” model as George H.W.’s national security adviser in the late 1980s yielded protégé Condi Rice’s disastrous performance during George W.’s first term, when her passive approach to managing the interagency process produced a magnificently dysfunctional postwar effort in Iraq.

Building the canon.  The grand strategist doesn’t just think in decades, he or she needs to view their career similarly.  Your twenties are for picking up academic credentials, while your thirties see you honing your entry-level skills.  Many grand strategists will spend their forties racking up private-sector successes (and money), only to hit their stride in their fifties.  The top-drawer jobs in government typically come then, to be followed by the “wise men” years spent headlining a global consultancy or law firm that bears your name (Kissinger & Associates, Scowcroft & Associates, Baker & Botts, and so on).  The field is crowded at all levels of progression, so building a known canon of widely read works is a key way to set you apart.  Ideally, when your name comes up, it’s readily attached to strategic concepts that have permeated the community, so that observers frequently spot echoes of your canon in the decisions of policymakers.  In the end, most of the grand strategist’s greatest victories are nearly untraceable—your “bold” proposals of yesteryear imperceptibly morphing into today’s conventional wisdom. 

Finally, do whatever it takes to avoid ending up as the aged doomsayer who wanders the halls of influence warning of the End Times.  These guys tend to view their careers in power as “one big lie,” so if they worked nuclear weapons, now they want them universally abolished!  If they worked energy, they’ll bend your ear on “peak oil” or global warming.  Whatever they feel they didn’t adequately accomplish in their ambition-filled careers, they reluctantly bequeath to the next generation—their “idiot kids”—as one giant guilt trip.  Robert MacNamara is the poster child for this in national security, while George Soros now claims that title in high finance—brilliant strategic minds twisted by decades of rising regret over worlds they now realize they could have created but didn’t. 


A life in the day of the grand strategist

Brain-time is everything.  Since grand strategists are logically interested in just about everything happening in our vast world, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the crisis du jour.  The problem, of course, is that grand strategy doesn’t aspire to clairvoyance.  Grand strategy isn’t about predicting future events; it’s about having a consistent worldview that allows you to contextualize current events as they unfold.  Again, if you’re given to a new grand strategy every other month, you’re better off being an op-ed columnist or TV commentator.  Because the true grand strategist emphasizes continuity, he makes for a relatively boring interview whereas the media craves “new” views and voices—no matter how regurgitating the actual content.  Of course, once you commit yourself to a government position, you’ll likewise find yourself routinely engrossed in today’s “shocking event,” in turn logically finding solace in whatever out-of-power strategic thinkers you can routinely tap for advice.  Upshot?  Successful grand strategists schedule plenty of time for either deep thinking on their own or networking with those that do.

Managing an intellectual portfolio.  In our media-saturated age, a grand strategist needs to “hit for the cycle” in terms of intellectual output.  “Singles” are things like five-minute appearances on cable news channels or blog posts that connect you to a dedicated daily readership.  A prominent op-ed or speech is more like a “double,” while a “triple” extends into the realm of a major article in a mainstream media publication, testifying before Congress on some pressing issue, or a keynote address to one of those Davos-style gatherings of the global superclass.  “Home runs” include bestselling books, serial TV or talk radio appearances in programs that are based around your core ideas, and the Holy Grail of grand strategy—being summoned to the White House for an off-the-record conversation.  The danger of this mad chase for influence, of course, is the trade-off between richness and reach—as in, the bigger the audience you seek, the more you’ll inevitably dumb down your material.  If you’re not careful, your vision can quickly be reduced to mere sloganeering, which often makes you even more appealing to politicians—the “best and the brightest” bowdlerized for the “rest and the lightest.”

Zen and the art of grand strategy.  The reason why actor Christopher Walken is constantly busy making movies is because, as he puts it, there’s only one Chris Walken-type—himself!  Rather than trying to be all things to all people, Walken continues to hone his stylistic niche—movie after movie.  Typecasting to some, but a full-employment act to Walken.  The dedicated grand strategist aspires to the same sort of brand-name status:  being so closely identified to his strategic concepts that his influence moves beyond the need for mere footnoting.  Think about Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” (originated by Bernard Lewis), Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history,” Joseph Nye’s “soft power,” or Thomas Friedman’s “flat world.”  All of these strategic concepts have moved into popular discourse as strategic memes.  The intellectual danger here consists of “bouncing the rubble”:  as in, you spend the rest of your career seeking to pulverize your opponents by either extending the concept or defending yourself against how others choose to distort it.  Still, every performer wants a “hit song” to define their legacy, so as purgatories go, this is a small price to pay.

The tantric grand strategist.  If anticipation isn’t your favorite joy, then forget about trying to play grand strategist.  It’s not just that strategic visions typically take decades to unfold, you’re likely to wait equally as long for the credit.  In contrast, the blame, as master grand strategist George Kennan discovered, tends to arrive far faster, such as when his early-Cold War “containment” strategy soon fell hostage to the domino theorists of America’s disastrous—and largely pointless—intervention in Vietnam.  In short, don’t go into this business to make your parents proud but rather to safeguard your grandchildren.


The creative tools of the grand strategist

Conceptual arbitrage.  As biographer Robert Skidelsky wrote of Keynes, whose “spend to save” monetary theories defined much of FDR’s mobilizing response to the Great Depression:  “His achievement was to align economics with changes taking place in ethics, in culture, in politics and in society—in a word, with the twentieth-century spirit.”  Most of what the grand strategist does is arbitrage strategic concepts between those analytic fields that seem furthest ahead in understanding today’s world and those that lag behind.  Living, as we do right now, in a world of pervasive and persistent revolutions triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, there’s plenty of work to be done.  As the ongoing worldwide financial crisis demonstrates, globalization’s growing networks far outpace even our economic understanding of what’s going on, much less our political capacity to manage resulting dislocations.  Proof in point:  for close to two decades now, we’ve only been able to identify our age in terms of where we know it began—as in, a post-Cold War world, or a post-9/11 security environment.  Where are we heading next?  Again, Fareed Zakaria posits a post-American world, as if that’s direction enough!  Meanwhile, historical arbitraging seems all the rage:  Are we rerunning 1914?  Or is it 1929, 1938, or 1946?  In grand strategic terms, we have no idea when we are—much less where we’re heading.

Alternative futures.  A lot of grand strategizing involves scenario-based planning, or what futurist Peter Swartz likes to call, “memories of the future.”  It’s the use of scenarios that leads many outside observers of the field to assume that its main aim is to predict the future, when nothing could be further from the truth.  As Swartz explained in his seminal book on strategic planning, The Art of the Long View, the end result of scenarios is “not an accurate picture of tomorrow, but better decisions about the future.”   Good scenario exercises are primarily useful for reducing strategic surprise:  you guide government and/or industry leaders through a series of alternative futures, engaging their analytic feedback, to reduce the chance that, following some downstream “bolt from the blue,” they’ll be reduced to muttering to themselves, “I had no idea anything like this could happen!”  Want to know what our Pacific Fleet’s greatest intellectual advantage over the Japanese navy was in World War II?  Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz declared that it was the naval war games he and his fellow officers had played in the 1930s:  “The war with Japan had been reenacted in the game rooms at the Naval War College by so many people, and in so many different ways, that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise . . . absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war.” 

A focus on rules, not specific solutions.  Again from Drucker:  “Effective people do not make great decisions.  They concentrate on the important ones.  They try to think through what is strategic and generic, rather than ‘solve problems.’”  The grand strategist cares less about the specifics of any decision than the formulation of the rules by which decisions are regularly guided.  Does this choice give us more enemies or more friends?  Does it sap our nation’s moral strength or is it a good fit?  Do we have sufficient resources to do this on our own or must we seek alliances?  Take a look at the first seven years of Bush-Cheney’s “global war on terror” and you see bad outcomes all around:  more enemies, fewer friends, moral conundrums and fiscal bankruptcy.  So we have to ask ourselves, “Is this the future we were hoping to create?”  Shine that light into the eyes of our president-elect and what you’ll see reflected are the outlines of the Obama Doctrine—the putative myths of our next best future.


Spreading the gospel

Never turn down a chance at public speaking ….  First, you need all the practice you can get, because for the top-level audiences too busy to actually read any of your works, your primary manner of reaching them will be through speeches or presentations.  So it’s essential that you be a killer speaker—as in, knock ’em dead the first chance you get.  Plus, being a strong speaker, whether you’re standing in front of thousands or just that one crucial decision-maker, is how you make strong first impressions, the key to the grand strategist’s ability to network widely.  In today’s world, speaking skills typically need to be blended together with engrossing slide presentations, which puts a premium on your stage timing.  Elevated to an art form, it’s Joel Osteen (evangelical fervor) meets Laurie Anderson (multimedia glitz) meets Chris Rock (stage presence), because if it’s your vision versus somebody else’s and you’ve got the better show, your content will win every time—especially with the PowerPoint-obsessed military.  Finally, due to the typical complexity of your message, you’ll want to be a mesmerizing speaker because you’ll often have to give the same presentation—multiple times—to the same audience in order to get full buy-in.

… Because successful grand strategists are brilliant speakers.  Grand strategists have to be able to argue the most complex logic but deliver it in the language of commonsense.  They have to speak with great authority and moral conviction, and yet still approach the audience as a supplicant, winning their devotion.  It is a complex package few can master, but one that separates the wannabes from the players.  Alexander Hamilton was a stunning orator, as was Henry Clay and Clay’s self-admitted devotee, Abraham Lincoln.  All could hold audiences in the palm of their hands—for hours on end.  Alfred Thayer Mahan, America’s first great global strategist, peppered his Naval War College lectures with brilliant analogies that linked historical narratives to deductive reasoning.  He also had a gift for coining buzz phrases, like the Middle East.  Woodrow Wilson was a master at connecting ideas to audiences, giving them the feeling that, as biographer Clement Kendrick put it, “he was merely saying well what they always felt.” 

The stump speech as your instrument.  The grand strategist markets reproducible strategic concepts, or fully formed ideas that arrive in your brain like zip files and then decompress in all their complexity, transferring the full implications of the long-term vision.  Kennan’s Cold War concept of containment fit that bill:  so simple and compact that it’s immediate meaning is apparent in the very word, even as its embedded rule sets were both lengthy and subject to wide interpretation.  The best way to develop these transferrable concepts is through the highly iterative process of presenting them—time and time again—to a wide variety of audiences.  Like the politician, the grand strategist essentially gives the same speech at every venue, tailoring the delivery and technical details according to the listeners’ distinct backgrounds.  So while the playlist may vary plenty, the overall performance and its effect on the audience do not.  Ronald Reagan’s supreme on-stage confidence as a politician stemmed in large part from his persistent honing of “the speech,” which he first started delivering in the 1950s on behalf of his corporate sponsor, General Electric.  Al Gore, backed up by his stunning slide deck (Keynote, mind you, not PowerPoint), won his Nobel Peace Prize essentially for giving the same compelling presentation the world over.  Ditto for Air Force colonel John Boyd, who, through dogged determination, revolutionized U.S. military thinking about warfare across the 1980s by delivering the same breakthrough brief thousands of times to young officers. 

Picking the right choirs to preach to.  The grand strategist, while taking every advantage to speak truth to the powers-that-be, focuses most of his attention on the powers-that-will-become.  Thus, his preferred audience consists of future decision-makers early in their careers but not before they’ve had some real-world executive experience.   In national security, that equates to thirtysomething mid-level career officers (or their civilian equivalents) who’ve landed in one of the military service “war colleges” following their first command in the field.  In the corporate world, it’s those rising young executives who’ve been selected by their bosses for mid-career educational tune-ups, like a compressed-schedule “executive MBA.”  Casting your net more widely, there’s a small universe of high-end confabs and ultra-cushy retreats for those high-powered connectors and cross-pollinators of new ideas in media-centric industries.  Besides rubbing elbows with lots of celebrities, your message can pick up a good deal of insider buzz that leads you to additional worthwhile speaking venues and further media opportunities.


The grand strategist’s customer base

Desperate policymakers.  As Henry Kissinger wrote in his White House memoirs, “There is little time for leaders to reflect.  They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important.  The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance.” As such, Kissinger argued, “a policymaker’s greatest need for outside advice is in an intermediate realm between tactics and goals”—otherwise known as the “out years” in Washington.  For civilian policymakers, that’s the two-to-five year time frame beyond the current budget cycle; for defense policymakers, it’s the 5-to-10 years just beyond the FYDP—or Future Years Defense Plan.  That’s the sweet spot where the policymaker faces just enough wiggle room to make a difference somewhere downstream but likewise needs some navigational guidance.  Unfortunately, as Kissinger noted, most outside academics brought in to advise leaders “tend to flood the policymaker with minute tactical advice or elaborate recommendations as to grand strategy until, glassy-eyed, he begins to feel new and unaccustomed affection for his regular bureaucracy.”  Lesson being:  don’t try to tell policymakers how to do their job but also don’t attempt to re-invent the grand strategy “wheel.”  Instead, help them realistically see the medium-term connections between the former and latter, or what Harry Truman’s Secretary of State (and preeminent practitioner of grand strategy) Dean Acheson once termed, “the struggle through illusion to policy.”

The corporate strategic planner.  Today’s global corporations face a competitive landscape that’s unremittingly unforgiving.  Thomas Friedman, who coined the phrase, “flat world,” likes to say the world known as globalization is far from mature, turning only 19 this year.  Good to hear, because as the global economy heads into “middle age” over the next couple of decades, it’s tastes and wants are going to mature along with its rising income level, generating the first truly global middle class in human history.  Global corporations the world over want to access that ballooning disposable income, the problem being that most of it will be found in the relatively low-trust environments of emerging and/or “frontier” economies, where legal and regulatory structures tend to be unsophisticated, weak and decidedly corrupt when compared to the advanced West’s high-trust business environment.  So if you thought only great power governments get involved in nation-building, you’re wrong, because increasingly their flagship corporations are moving into that nebulous space so as to achieve first- or early-entry into anticipated consumer markets.   And if they don’t move quickly?  Well, Western companies often find their Eastern counterparts (often state-owned) have already fenced off much of these economies—along with their natural resources—from effective competition.  In the past, trade followed the flag, but in today’s global economy, it’s often the other way around, meaning corporations increasingly play a part in any great power’s grand strategy, whether they like it or not.

The military commander.  Since the end of the Cold War, Western military leaders—especially American ones--have been among the most active and eager consumers of grand strategy, the irony being that—constitutionally speaking—Western militaries aren’t authorized to make such decisions!  Currently inside the U.S. military there is a fierce ideological struggle between two camps:  1) those who favor a doctrinal focus on the potentiality—dare they say, inevitability? —of renewed great power rivalry and even full-blown wars (typically projected to occur over access to energy resources in third-party regions); and 2) those who believe that, thanks to long-established patterns of nuclear deterrence and exponentially increasing economic interdependencies, the age of great power war has ended and thus we face, amidst globalization’s continued advance into unstable regions, a future of endless but minor small wars—especially those involving insurgencies.  Here’s where grand strategy really matters:  depending on how the world’s rising great powers, along with the West’s established great powers, view globalization’s future unfolding, they’ll collectively either recognize overlapping strategic interests and thus choose to cooperate with one another (a progressive, 21st-century mindset), or determine that their strategic interests are being increasingly threatened and choose to protect them in whatever manner necessary (a return to a more 19th-century colonial mindset).  In terms of grand strategy, the stakes couldn’t get much higher for the United States.  If we continue sticking our necks out by playing globalization’s Leviathan and we’re unable to win the support of other great powers (meaning, besides Europe), there’s no way we can afford to pursue this course much longer.  But if nobody’s minding the global store, so to speak, it’s hard not to imagine that the East’s rising great powers will feel compelled (even empowered?) to pursue such actions on their own, like Russia claims it was doing recently in Georgia (to selfish ends—big surprise).  Eventually, that second pathway will start to look uncomfortably like 1914, meaning any number of small-nation leaders might soon be auditioning for the role of Archduke Ferdinand (but thank you, Misha, for your contribution to global insecurity!).


Mad Men for flag and country

Strategic optometry.  Grand strategy is a non-stop sales job.  As a rule, most grand strategists never push a button or launch an attack or negotiate an alliance.  Instead, their ideas and visions shape a generation of senior executives, military officers and policymakers who do all those things.  Since any grand strategy, like any war plan, is constantly altered in response to real-world events, its vision of the future undergoes continuous debate.  In an eye exam, the optometrist keeps switching lenses and asking, “Does this seem better or worse?”  The grand strategist does much the same through his persistent marketing efforts, always asking the same question of his audience, “Does this future seem more or less achievable?”  The grand strategist doesn’t go where no man has gone before; he’s of no use if he dreams up worlds that can never be.  Done well, he simply arrives at logical futures before others and then articulates the pathway.  Sometimes the grand strategist dreams too far ahead, like Woodrow Wilson did after World War I, but because of that failed attempt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who idolized Wilson and served in his administration, entered World War II armed with a clear vision of where he wanted to take the world.

There are no pre-Wilsonians.  Sizing up John Maynard Keynes’ impact on the modern field of economics, his biographer Robert Skidelsky proclaimed that “while many economists are anti-Keynesian, no economists are pre-Keynesian.”  The same can be said about Woodrow Wilson’s seminal notion of a peaceful world order shaped—in no small measure—by an America willing to intervene overseas in the defense of freedom and human rights.  Most of America’s presidents since then—both Republican (e.g., Nixon, Reagan) and Democrats (JFK, Jimmy Carter)—have either openly identified themselves as Wilsonian or simply revealed themselves as such, including both of our post-Cold War presidents to date.  It may have taken WWII to prove Wilson was right, but no wars--not even our loss in Vietnam nor our difficulties in Iraq—have since rendered his vision irrelevant.

Great nations require great ideas.  Early in his first term, Nixon told Kissinger that “Nations must have great ideas or they cease to be great.”  Nixon’s dream was to bring about a permanent peace among great powers by removing the potential for East-West war in Europe (détente), slowing down the superpower arms race, and bringing China in from the cold.  Given that America was bogged down militarily in southeast Asia at the time, Nixon’s grand strategic design was insanely ambitious.  But two decades later, all of Tricky Dick’s dreams came true—and he lived to see it happen.  Nixon liked to play madman for real, engaging in acts of strategic brinkmanship (e.g., carpet bombing North Vietnam, taking the fight into Cambodia, secretly negotiating with Beijing behind Moscow’s back) that lesser leaders would have balked at.  His confidence (or recklessness) derived from his strategic vision.  He knew where he wanted America to lead the world.


W(h)ither Obama?

We see in Obama all the makings of a strategically minded president.  With no personal demons in tow and a bi-racial make-up that revolutionizes the very notion of national politics in America, he brings all the characteristics of a transformational leader. 

A first-born child of a broken home, Obama’s childhood was nonetheless a happy and adventurous one, to include a stint living abroad (Indonesia) and an adolescent period of being raised by loving grandparents in Hawaii.  Now deep into his forties, he’s happily married with two daughters.  Far from signaling any internal instabilities, Obama projects such an above-the-fray serenity that he was popularly cast as “Spock” (another guy with a split background) opposite John McCain’s fiery “Kirk” across a long and contentious general election.  A lawyer by training (Harvard, no less), Obama naturally sees connections and similarities where others spot divisions and differences.  He promises—and often actually delivers—a post-partisanship in his policies. 

Technically a tail end Boomer, Obama’s elevation nonetheless suggests a popular rejection of the last two decades of Boomer rule, making him the most symbolically potent president since Ronald Reagan swept into town.  He becomes the first president born after 1960, meaning he was a true child of the sixties, but came of age in the 1970s, when arguably much of today’s globalized world first began to appear.  Thus, Obama is a man of this age, much like JFK, the first president born in the 20th century, symbolized a modern, grown-up America back then.

Neither a Nixon nor a Kissinger, Obama seems more an amalgam of FDR’s aloofness, JFK’s mystique, and Reagan’s theatrical discipline—a wonderfully appropriate show of personality and inspirational speaking skills, given the current panoply of overlapping crises.  But having amassed an equally appropriate and impressive cast of older mentors (e.g., Warren Buffet, Colin Powell, Paul Volcker, Chuck Hagel), Obama signals his awareness that the mere promise of changed leadership must rapidly be followed-up by distinguishing action.

However, to the extent Obama has revealed great ideas to revitalize our great nation, his strategic vision so far seems more inwardly than outwardly focused.  In most ways, his suggested foreign policy course speaks more to an America catching its strategic breath than aggressively shaping the world to desired ends.  Obama clearly wants to unwind America’s strategic tie-down in Iraq, promising an enhanced effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but all that ambition merely points in the direction of finishing what George W. Bush and the neocons started, rather than revealing where an Obama administration might want to focus next.  Truth be told, because of the strategic overhang created by Bush, Obama’s entire first term is likely to be characterized by strategic retrenchment and a certain accommodation of globalization’s rising great powers—namely, a fairly strong continuation of Bush’s own anti-neocon foreign policy of the last two years. 

Of course, the world in all its complexities and turmoil is unlikely to afford an Obama administration enough quietude to concentrate wholly on America’s domestic regeneration.  If the last two years have been any guide, he will face a lot of disrespect around the world, not all of which will magically disappear at the sight of his face.  The current financial crisis has definitely taken down, by several pegs, a number of rising rogues (e.g., Russia, Iran, Venezuela) that bedeviled Bush in his final months, but given the high degree of state intervention in our economy right now, Obama will be forced to dramatically recalibrate America’s message to the rest of the world regarding globalization’s benefits and perils and the appropriate models for handling each.

For now, it seems a good bet that any Obama grand strategy will await a potential second term, having emerged—through trial and error—across the long expanse of his first.  If America had wanted a putative grand strategy right now, it would have voted in McCain and his “central focus” on winning the global war on terror in Iraq-segueing-into-Iran, along with his promised “league of democracies” to do ideological battle with the East’s authoritarian powers (e.g., Russia, China).  Instead, thanks in no small part to the October stock market crash (definitely not the October surprise McCain was hoping for), America voted in Obama’s heal-this-nation-and-repair-America’s-standing-abroad, decidedly un-grand strategy, suggesting that America’s grand storyline for globalization will be resumed only after a significant period of self-reflection and self-mending.

If so, Obama’s strategy of having America re-gather its strength and regroup its resources in the near-term is being amply aided by the ongoing financial crisis in the sense that none of the world’s great powers, being themselves significantly distressed right now, are likely to step into any strategic breach created by our breather.  If anything, most of them are quite open right now to discussing a collective way out of this accumulating mess, affording Obama a historic opportunity to reconnect the United States to the world with a new brand of leadership, one that calms great powers by suggesting that America now recognizes their growing interests and fears and is willing to re-partner with them on that basis.

In sum, Obama’s first term was never slated to present any grand strategic design.  George W. Bush and the neocons killed that possibility years ago.  However, if Obama’s administration can navigate the next four years in such a way as to restore America’s economic health and international standing, a second Obama administration would be well-placed to both propose and impose a new American grand strategy that’s logically focused on the biggest structural change the planet faces over the next generation—the rise of a global middle class whose center of gravity will be located in the Pacific/Indian rim and not those of the Atlantic/Mediterranean.  Toward that end, Obama’s worldview, being far less Eurocentric than any previous president, will serve him well.


Final column at World Politics Review

The New Rules: Globalization's Future Depends on Stable U.S.-China-India Order


Editor's note: This will be the final appearance of Thomas P.M. Barnett's "The New Rules" column at World Politics Review. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Tom for the insightful, compelling analysis he has offered WPR readers each week for the past three years, as well as for the support he has shown for WPR over that time. We wish him continued success.  

Amid all our current fears regarding the global economy’s potential “double dip” back into deep recession, a longer-term question stands out: How can a supposedly declining America protect the golden goose that is globalization while managing the rise of twin economic superpowers in the East -- namely, China and India? History says that three is a crowd when it comes to system stability. Invariably, some conflict will arise to trigger a two-against-one dynamic that must yield to either the stable stand-off of bipolarity, as during the Cold War, or the emergence through decisive conflict of an acknowledged unipolar hegemon, as in the early post-Cold War period.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Claremont Grad U deconstructs their Wikistrat "International Grand Strategy Competition" win


Tuesday Lunch Talk 9-6-11 from CGU SPE on Vimeo.




Time's Battleland: Arab Spring with same impact as "big bang strategy": Islam at war with self - not West


Nice piece in the NYT at the end of September pointing out that the primary impact of the Arab Spring is that, in giving people chances to rule themselves and not be subject to dictators, Islamic activists find themselves splintering from within . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


My best explanation of Wikistrat yet

(Fb x Wp = MMOC) = CIE

Start-ups are curious things. They tend to morph right before your eyes, especially in the first stage in which family and friends tend to dominate the proceedings, with the occasional visionaries sucked in (as visionaries are wont to be).  It’s figuratively, “You supply the barn and I’ll bring some old sheets for the curtains and once we figure out who plays all the parts, we can put on a show!” In short, it’s all one grand experiment that attempts to answer the question, “Can we see our way to a product with a market and, if so, can we build a viable company around that product?”

The first stage is a heady mess, but incredibly exciting. It usually starts with a fabulous idea that requires downstream definition (“Okay, but where will this take us?”), which is typically achieved through real-world trial and error (“First we tried this, then that, and finally we locked onto the path.”) The key is the flexibility to say, “This isn’t working, but here’s the next logical attempt at something that might.”  How many times do you turn that crank?  My experience across ten such entities going back to 1987 is that 5-6 is the mean, with – naturally – foundational clients driving the process. 

Getting to those initial clients marks your departure from early-stage to mid-stage: you’ve had your proof-of-concept experience and figured out your basic product development and you’re heading into initial engagements.  Trick is, by then, your company needs to have some identity, to include enough of the right people in the right spots to execute those initial engagements with real confidence, meaning no wasted opportunities.

I was fortunate enough to be sucked into the Wikistrat world just after CEO Joel Zamel and DTO Daniel Green had decided to move off their first iteration (simply selling the wiki platform), and with them I participated in three more turns of the crank: the initial subscription period (CoreGap Report) that followed my laborious creation of the wiki/scenario-based GLOMOD (globalization model), the first efforts at mustering distributed simulations with a proto-community of early-joining analysts/interns, and then the – arguably audacious – decision to conduct the international grand strategy competition to jumpstart the community ethos, create some buzz on the whole crowdsourcing analytic dynamic, and conduct junior-to-mid-level recruitment that would fuel both.

The success of the competition really marked the beginning of the end of the early-stage development and the start of the mid-stage effort. After regaling each other with various attempted descriptions and analogies and heroic tales of what Wikistrat was and would eventually become, our dialogue – both internal and external – began to coalesce around three primary components.

Now, understand that what I’m about to say is my best description but not necessarily Joel’s or Daniel’s, and that, by presenting my version here, I’m not pretending that the dialogue is consummated, because start-ups simply don’t unfold like that.  More turns of the crank invariably happen.  It’s just that they’ll get smaller in the months ahead – more course corrections than setting out on new vectors.  And given that Joel and Daniel were only at it for yeah many months before they pulled me aboard and that was roughly a year ago, that’s a pretty sweet record – getting through the first stage in two years or less.  Not warp speed, mind you.  More like getting your Master’s degree on schedule and hitting your PhD program with advanced standing, understanding that I purposefully reach for an analytic analogy here.

So how would I describe Wikistrat as we embark on our midstage effort?

First, let me explain how I accumulated my “high concept” definitions along the way. By “high concept” I mean, a buzz phrase or mash-up of buzz phrases that captures the gist, like when Emily and I were watching James Cameron’s “Avatar” and I turned to her in the Imax and offered “The Matrix meets . . .” and she blurted out “Ferngully!”

Early on in conversations with Joel, I started with this bit, “Facebook meets Wikipedia.”  By that I meant two distinct things mashed up: Facebook referred to a global community of strategic thinkers, while Wikipedia referred to both the wiki-based strategic planning process and the under-construction GLOMOD, otherwise known the ultimate wiki on globalization itself or, in my initial upload, my professional body of thought transferred to the web to serve as original source code for what we know will eventually evolve far past my thinking to something a whole lot larger and more valuable – the rich and deep canvas against which we conduct simulations.

Now, the minute I blurted this out, I was pretty proud of myself, even if it presented the usual characteristics of my shorthand lexicon in that it was a bit superficial but highly accurate (my particular skill).  Then again, that’s the whole point of the high concept definition: namely, it cuts to the chase and its highly evocative.  You get it the minute you hear it.

The problem with this initial bit is that I would immediately follow it up with the refrain of, “But how to we make either of those items pay for themselves?”  Of course, Joel and Dan were thinking all along about the simulationss as products, but how to triangulate between community (Facebook) and environment (Wikipedia) into executing agent?

Joel and Dan had been mulling from the start about how the wiki-based approach would revolutionize the consulting business, taking the black-box methodology (you tell the consultancy your problem, they mull your world and future, and then out pops their answer, the creation of which made them smarter but doesn’t exactly empower you beyond their advice and revealed rationale). Their first iteration was selling the platform itself, but traditional consultancies weren’t interested in re-engineering what they felt wasn’t broken, even as they would readily admit the model represented the future of their industry, which, by all accounts - and my personal experience - is experiencing a serious shake-out since the global financial crisis began in 2008 (a true killing-of-the-dinosaurs-effect by that “meteor,” with no clear definition yet of who the “mammals” are, even as SaaS* providers look the most vibrant).  [*service as a solution]

Once it became clear that selling the platform wasn’t the way, the next iteration explored the notion of replicating the basic outlines of a traditional consultancy and then using the platform as a competitive advantage. But here was the problem with that: it didn’t sufficiently leverage the crowdsourcing dynamic.  It was your experienced and well-leveraged traditional consulting team versus our lean but wiki-enabled team – too close to a fair fight to be compelling.

Enter the grand strategy competition, where our subtext was, “Can we show how smart-but-relatively-inexperienced newcomers to the field can, en masse, tackle a complex future projection and really run that beast to ground in impressive fashion?”

For those of you who followed the competition, you know the answer. No, it wasn’t all “wheat,” but the “chaff” quotient dropped radically with each week, and the overall product was incredibly rich, especially considering the variety of simulations we crammed into the effort.  By my count, all sorts of legit professional products are easily generated from the competition, and we weren’t really even customizing with a customer in mind.

It thus proved, to a pleasantly surprising degree (for me, at least) the viability of a phrase I had started using last spring after Joel and Daniel confronted me with their idea of the competition: we are building the world’s first MMOC, as in, a massively multiplayer online consultancy.  So, it’s not just the community (Facebook of strategists) and it’s not just the environment (Wikipedia/GLOMOD), it’s the MMOC that combines the two into a product-offering machine.

I had written about this back in “Blueprint for Action” (2005) in my concluding bit called, “Headlines from the Future” (last entry for the 2020 timeframe):

“Online Game Triggers Dictator’s Departure; Stunning Victory of ‘People’s Diplomacy’”

The complexity of planning postconflict stabilization operations in advance is daunting, simply because of the huge number of variables involved. It’s not a matter of simply crunching numbers, but rather anticipating the free play of so many actors—your own military, allied civilians, enemy soldiers and insurgents, the local population, and so on. In many ways, this kind of complex simulation is well given over to massive multiplayer online games (MMOG), something I see both the military and the U.S. Government turning toward as a tool for predictive planning. Imagine if, months prior to the invasion, the Pentagon had started a MMOG that modeled Iraq immediately following the regime’s collapse, allowing hundreds or even thousands of chosen experts (or even just enthusiastic gamers!) from the world over to fill out the multitude of possible characters involved on both sides. Imagine what insights could have been learned beforehand. Now jump ahead fifteen years and think about how sophisticated such MMOGs might be, and how they could be used to preplay—for obvious consumption by both the global community and the targeted state in question—a rogue-regime takedown and subsequent occupation, perhaps even to the effect of convincing the regime to abandon its untenable situation in advance of actual war being waged. Far-fetched? Not in a world where uncredentialed Internet bloggers can force Senate majority leaders and major network news anchors to resign in disgrace at lightning speed.

And yes, I had thought of this the first time Joel and Daniel laid out their vision at the airport in NYC last fall. It just took a while for the three of us “blind men” – along with Wikistrategist Elad Schaffer – to feel up that “elephant” enough times to realize what we had here.

Back to the competition: it wasn’t just the executing-the-simulation-through-crowdsourcing dynamic that was proven there. What impressed me even more was the immediate sense of community that was created: participants really got into the process, regardless of their level of success in scoring.  It energized them and produced its own individual benefits of the blade-sharpening and unfolding-your-wings varieties.  I felt the same way about the judging: it was simply fun, in addition to being hard work and engrossing and enriching.  At the end of it, it didn’t just tickle my fancy.  My gut professional reaction was, “I could bundle this whole beast into an impressive book.”

Of course, so could anyone else who worked the competition – once they approximate my writing skill-set (not a simple matter, I would maintain). And there is beauty in that too: the Wikistrat universe is far more than a blade-sharpening and marketing-of-skills universe, it’s an elevating-your-thinking environment – no matter your level of experience.

Moreover, the sum product of the competition fed the GLOMOD beautifully.  It was like adding an entire new floor to the building in one fell swoop.

Win-win-win, but likewise a delineator of what we had here in this three-legged stool:  Facebook + Wikipedia = MMOC, or global community of strategists + global model of globalization = powerfully crowdsourcing simulations for a wide variety of clients.

In later conversations with one of the competition participants, who’s now in the process of stepping into an advisory role for Wikistrat (based on past-life experiences) even as she joins our global lineup of analysts (she’s a grad student in international relations), I let out the final high-concept definition: that Facebook + Wikipedia = MMOC constellation equates to a private-sector equivalent of what the CIA always should have been for the US Government – an intelligence exchange.  Wikistrat, in its full flowering, is a Central Intelligence Exchange on globalization across all of its major domains, meaning it connects clients with the best crowdsourced advice out there.  It is the “beast” (GLOMOD) that’s feed by the smart mob (community of strategists) and put to specific use (“the drill”) for interested clients. It beats traditional black-box consulting by being interactive, real-time, fully transparent, archivable, and red-teamed to a point of analytical robustness that cannot be achieved BOGGSAT-style (bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table).  It gives the client a world-class, throw-everyone-at-the-problem capability at an incredibly affordable price, making Wikistrat a desirable add-on capability for existing consultancies (dubbed, “channel partners”) looking to bring new-but-lean capabilities to clients struggling with globalization’s mounting complexity. Likewise, if you’re an analytic shop in the public sector facing budget cuts, Wikistrat has just given you the “more” capability to go along with your “less” budget (as in, “do more with less!”).

Why it matters for us to have this self-awareness.  The Facebook dynamic requires its own dynamics, skilled leadership, etc.  As does the Wikipedia/GLOMOD bit (my proximate role) and the MMOC (my ultimate role).  Making the whole CIE dynamic happen is a meta-level responsibility not to be underestimated either.  Knowing all this guides who we bring on in the future, because if you don’t know what your start-up is all about, you will flounder around when it comes to ramping up personnel and capability.  The good news is, of course, that ramping up the global community of strategists itself is a fairly simple – and cheap – affair. They go into your pool and they’re activated as jobs arise – a virtual labor force that can be activated discretely and at will.  But yes, some management and operational structure will need to be built around them, so – again – having a good sense of what that “elephant” is now is crucial. 

That’s it.  That’s my – for now – best riff on what Wikistrat is and is becoming. I didn’t put the whole package together in one conversation until I was chatting with one of our mentors while driving up to Green Bay Sunday morning to hit the Packer Hall of Fame prior to Aaron Rodger’s historic performance (4 passing TDs, 400-plus passing yards, and two rushing TDs – first time ever for an NFL QB in 90 years of league play), which just goes to show you two things: 1) it takes a while to construct complex explanations, and 2) I think best when I’m talking – even better than writing (which is why I have to explain something several times before I typically author it).


WPR's The New Rules: The Rise of the Rest Spells U.S. Strategic Victory

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has garnered America almost as much schadenfreude from the world as the original events did. Back in 2001, the line was that we had it coming to us for lording it over the world since the Cold War's end. Today, it takes the form of writing off our alleged "hegemony" in light of the shifts in global power over the intervening decade, a claim that is as absurd the previous one was insulting. Naturally, the Chinese are celebrated as our presumed replacement. So, as always throughout our history as a superpower, we're being treated to "sophisticated" analysis that says America fought the war, but they -- our next security obsession -- won the peace.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


US-China grand strategy agreement advertised in Foreign Affairs, new US-China website launched

The following ad appeared in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, touting the work I performed with John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min at the Center for America-China Partnership.

Go to the just launched US-China website for more coverage (note that not all the videos are up and working yet).  Go there for printable versions of the PDFs.


Time's Battleland: Defining the floor and ceiling of US interventions post-Bush

Qaddafi's handiwork

NOTE: No World Politics Review column this week as journal shuts down for its summer break.

Nice NYT analytic piece (already cited by Mark Thompson) by Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers regarding the downstream legacy of the US involvement in Libya to date. Starts off by saying the Obama White House seeks no doctrine definition because it fears being pulled into inappropriate situations, but, of course, that's what a doctrine is supposed to do - delineate those cases. Bad doctrines tend to be too vague and open-ended (George W. Bush's WRT terror), while better ones tend to be fairly specific (Jimmy Carter's WRT the Persian Gulf).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Some serious heavyweights join Wikistrat's global lineup of strategists

I've spent much of August now making pitches to analysts/thinkers/strategists I deeply respect, asking them to join Wikistrat's community of strategists.

And I've got to tell you, we've got some real stars coming our way:  Dmitri Trenin from Carnegie Moscow, Daniel Pipes from the Middle East Forum, Robert Kaplan from the Center for a New American Security, and Michael Scheuer of "Imperial Hubris" fame. From the blogging world we've attracted Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, Mr. "Anglosphere" James Bennett, James Joyner from Outside the Beltway and this blog's "neighbor" ZenPundit. We're also signing up a number of World Politics Review writers like Frida Ghitis and editor-in-chief Judah Grunstein.

The invites keep going out and the acceptances keep rolling in. If you think joining up is for you, please contact me and let's discuss.

Wikistrat is offering various levels of belonging. Most of the heavyweights will be employed primarily on simulations for clients - the crowdsouring effect. The more junior ones will spend much of their time building up the GLOMOD, or Global Model that undergirds the simulations, but also getting in on those when it makes sense.

Exciting stuff!

As I tell these people, we know we're carving out some new territory here, but anybody who looks ahead realizes that analysis in the 21st century won't be done solely in a BOGGSAT (bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table) manner. With a world increasingly tackling its entertainment in a distributed, massively multiplayer online way, some portion of analysis naturally gravitates in the same direction - already embodied in the blogosphere itself. 

So our point is, why not harness all that effort into something larger and more coherent. Instead of you, the client, visiting 40 blogs of China experts, why not have those 40 come together in TEAP mode (throw everyone at the problem) and work your China issue for you. And don't just have them discuss and then mush together their competing perspectives in the summary report. Instead, have those ideas compete on the Wiki in the form of scenarios - ones that illuminate the "black swans" you've never considered, etc.

I really think this is going to be an historic capability here, and I can't tell you how excited we are to attract such serious talent.


WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Must Get Back in Touch With Its True Exceptionalism

This month's debt-ceiling deal in Washington did little to quell the growing chorus of complaints around the world concerning America's continued inability to live within its means. As those complaints invariably translate into corporate hedging, government self-defense strategies, credit rating drops -- Standard and Poor's is already in the bag -- and market short-selling, the U.S. will most assuredly be made to feel the world's mounting angst. This is both right and good, even as it is unlikely to change our path anytime soon: Until some internal political rebalancing occurs, America will invariably stick to its current cluster of painfully outdated strategic assumptions.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Media & web mentions/coverage of recent Wikistrat International Grand Strategy Competition

Rounding up for the record the various sorts of coverage Wikistrat enjoyed over the course of the competition, I wanted to highlight the following:

Brian Hasbrouck over at Political Risk Explored wrote up his impressions of the first week, when - unsurprising to me as Head Judge - he cited the eventual winner Claremont Graduate University's entries as being the most impressive and eye-popping.  CGU played Pakistan 1.

One participant, Timothy Nunan, wrote a nice bit about how the game play allowed a bigger input role for those players with a more historical bent: 

While I’m normally not so big of a fan of “strategic studies” and much of the direction of the discipline of international relations, I find the collaborative aspect of the Wiki tremendously useful, and it’s certainly more interactive and a richer learning experience to have content up online instantly, rather than the turnaround time associated with sending out drafts of papers. Moreover, I feel that policy planning exercises tend to demand a deeper knowledge of history and national trajectories than what you’ll usually find in political science departments, with their quant-heavy focus, today. Certainly, your overall level of analysis can be more superficial than you might like it, but I find it a fun exercise to collaborate with others (something that takes place less frequently than it should in the academy), to try to show that historians, or more precisely people with a historical training, can have really intelligent stuff to add to foreign policy conversations . . .

Denise Magill at the Virtual Roundtable (a site that devotes a lot of attention to wikis), asked a question right out of my wrap-up analysis: "Would you pay $10,000 for your company's next big idea?" In effect, the grand strategy competition was an advertisement to governments about the validity of crowdsourcing new thinking on national policies, but the same holds true for corporations, and I'm not just talking about fishing for big new ideas.  Say you've got this initiative you're considering for emerging market X or developing region Y, but you need somebody to spin out all the possible permutations so you can iron out as many uncertainties in your approach as possible before committing resources.  Why not take $10k of what you're spending on traditional consulting and tap a truly wide network of experts with varying degrees of geographic and intellectual connectivity to the subject matter? Yes, you go to the deep subject matter experts for the guts of your thinking, but how to game out the surprises and the "inconceivables" that invariably pop up? On that score, you gain real safety in numbers - the wiki way.

Dave Algoso, a veteran international developmental aid professional, wrote a nice post that explored the whole vertical-versus-horizontal scenarios distinction. As a rule, professionals tend to obsess over the vertical "shocks," because such black swan events are so analytically sexy, but most of the resulting change actually comes in the low-and-slow horizontal ripples that emanate from such system perturbations.  Algoso sees Wikistrat's approach ably tapping into that more integrated perspective:

Wikistrat is attempting to operationalize this analytical framework. The knowledge and skills necessary to explore the effects are spread across disciplines throughout an organization. Attempts to bring interdisciplincary teams together can be effective, but are susceptible to inefficiencies. We also know that contextual knowledge is vitally important in development. A platform like Wikistrat may enable strategic planners to bring all this knowledge together in an effective way. If it does that, we may see much more effective interventions and better strategy coordination in the future.

Frankly, as Head Judge I saw that this was the hardest thing to get across to most participants: encouraging them to think about downstream consequences that arise from some catalytic event. Often it's not the direct linkage that is fruitfully explored, but rather the seemingly disconnected bit that suddenly looms with new strength as a result of the shock's impact on competing issues.  

Great example from the competition: when the "big one" (however defined) hits China and reorders a lot of the world's assumptions about that growth trajectory, arguably the most compelling shift will be the default rise of India to the top of the global ascendancy narrative. In that dynamic, the more disconnected India is from the triggering problem, the better.

Another eye-opener I cited from the competition: when big shocks to traditional oil-producing regions suddenly catapult the Arctic into the world's consciousness as the next great frontier on energy. Yes, it's been there in the background for years now, but eventually something comes along that gives it global urgency. That's an "inconceivable" (Arctic top Persian Gulf in focus?) that you can count on, the question being, What event triggers that shift in perception and who's best positioned to take advantage?

Institute of World Politics' competition participants

The Institute of World Politics issued a nice press release highlighting their two teams' efforts (as Turkey and Brazil). What was really great to hear was that the competition mirrored simulations run in several of the Institute's courses (Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and National Security Policy Process). Participating students felt they were well prepared - and they were. Both teams finished in the Top 12 overall. Some nifty quotes:

The IWP teams are working hard, and gaining valuable experience through their extracurricular efforts.  Vilen Khlgatyan, an IWP student who has been working on articles about Turkey's regional future, has found that, "This competition has helped me further ingrain the idea that all facets of statecraft should be considered, as well as the many possible outcomes" . . . 

And recent graduate Gabriella Gervasio observes, "The Wikistrat exercise is truly the perfect ending to my education here at IWP.  It requires knowledge, expertise, and proper use of the elements of statecraft." 

This is exactly the sort of experience we sought to create: a leveraging of the most exciting and collaborative stuff going on in universities - just blown up to a far larger scale.  I mean, why shouldn't these institutions compete in the strategic realm just like they do in sports?

An Israeli newswire account on the competition had a similarly gratifying pair of participant quotes:

"The entire competition has been one of the most exciting intellectual exercises for me in a long time," said Roman Muzalevsky, the leader of the team from Yale, when reflecting on his experience over the course of the Competition. "I am certain I have learned more from this experience than the vast majority of classrooms I have ever been in," added Andrew Eccleston, a member of the team from the American Military University. While the prize was a strong incentive, most participants felt the experience of applying their theoretical knowledge and using Wikistrat’s innovative model was the real reward. 

I think the real excitement came in the act of competing. It's one thing to crank a paper and get a good grade, and I made that effort by giving each team's sixteen entries an initial grade where, quite frankly, I judged them strictly on how many boxes they checked and how well they checked them - relative to other teams from that country (when applicable). At first, like in any course, the grades were lower because the content was weaker, and I struggled a bit not to grade too harshly. But the longer the competition went and the vast majority figured out "the ropes," it got a lot harder for me not to give everybody solid initial grades. Near the end, I was searching for ways to nick points here and there: that's how consistently solid everyone was becoming.

But if all we had done was that, we wouldn't have elevated the play - or excitement.  It would have been collaborative, yes, but not truly competitive. So the first straight-up grade was like your initial pool grade: it determined which tier of competition you'd ultimately be ranked within. All the super top grades went into the same bin, for example, and then it became the top China entry versus the top Pakistan entry versus . . .. So yeah, you might get an initial grade of 95, but then the question became, could that grade hold up when rank-ordered against the other 95s?  In the end, then, your overall grade reflected your team's consistent effort to outwork, out-think and out-strategize everybody else - just like in the real world. And I think it was that definitive outcome that really fired the competitive juices.

Find a nice bit here from the University of Sussex celebrating how well their fielded team played North Korea - which they did.  I was surprised by how imaginative the team was with a country that seemingly has so little wiggle room.  But that is one of the joys of a strategic planning exercise like this.  As one Sussex player put it: 

North Korea is a Cold War legacy in the 21st century, and it was stimulating imagining the future of this isolated country in a globalising world.

Naturally, top bragging rights went to the overall winner, Claremont Graduate University, and the university was justifiably proud about its winning team:

Comprising CGU's team were: Benjamin Acosta, PhD student in comparative politics and cultural studies; Steven Childs, PhD candidate in world and comparative politics; Sean Gera, PhD student in world politics; Byron Ramirez, PhD student in political science and economics; and Piotr Zagorowski, PhD student in world politics.

The team bested rivals from the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Georgetown University, Ohio State University, Yale University, New York University and other top schools.

Childs said the CGU team's victory is a testament to the university's emphasis on transdisciplinary education and the political methods courses found in SPE’s [School of Politics and Economics] curriculum.  Rather than examine the issues in isolation, the CGU team tackled the challenges of the contest with a broad range of thought and academic expertise.

"This emphasizes the strength in CGU's approach to education," Childs said. "I'm really proud of our team."

Here's another nice press piece on Ramirez alone.

It was a joy to grade CGU's work, but what really won it for them was their innate ability to follow the directions to the letter. They really plumbed the depths of each assignment, whether it was figuring out Pakistan's national interests, or casting a regional trajectory, or running down the horizontal scenarios from a series of vertical shocks. They really explored each analytic assignment to the fullest and stayed on topic throughout - an extraordinary display of discipline that was reflected in their high-content/low-fat output.

And that's a great take-away from the competition: it's easy to assume that the interdisciplinary approach necessarily results in tons of excess and unhelpful verbiage, because it so often does - when not properly channeled. But what the CGU did was simply wonderful: clear and concise cross-linking of subject areas that won the team the top ranking in "use of the wiki," which I thought was highly emblematic of their overall win.

On a side note, I thought it was cool of U. Kentucky's Robert Farley (fellow - and well respected - World Politics Review columnist) to note how well Wikistrat's platform played on Apple's iPad, which the U.of K. team used in its performance as Japan 1 team.  Being so on-top-of-things ("research, remaining connected with the rest of the team, and monitoring the competition") was crucial for the Patterson School of Diplomacy crew, because the other Japan team (played by actual Japanese) had to drop out due to a real-world political crisis back home. That left the Patterson team somewhat "orphaned," meaning they needed to compare themselves more vigorously with other country teams to make sure they were pushing the envelope sufficiently. Based on that sort of extra effort, I awarded the Kentucky team the prize for being the best "single."

Like I've noted previously, the competition was a great source of new ideas. Nick Ottens over at Atlantic Sentinel generated a trio of posts concerning three of the best:

And, of course, I myself pillaged what I could for two Time Battleland posts ("Why US Withdrawal from Afghanistan Would Stabilize Pakistan" and "Russia Will Someday Be Forced to Outsource its Security"). I also bagged a World Politics Review column out of the highly innovative (and #2 finisher overall) Oxford team that played European Union 2 ("A Post-NATO Europe Should Look East").  History Guy Tom Wade did similarly with his post on Global Cities, and this site's original webmaster Critt Jarvis posited an even bolder extrapolation to planning "model cities" in Honduras using the Wikistrat many-brains-tackling-the-problem approach.

All good stuff that I thought was worth recompiling here, but what really sticks in my mind coming out of the competition was how so many of the student-participants - even the ones that didn't necessarily win anything - walked away with such a nice impression of Wikistrat as a place to ply their craft.  As one relatively experienced participant put it in a follow-up debrief: 

Wikistrat, its strengths and flaws notwithstanding, is the most realistic depiction of strategic analysis in the intelligence community.

As someone who has evaluated big command post exercises in various military commands (PACOM, SOUTHCOM, etc.), that's a great compliment to receive, so I take my hat off to everyone who participated and especially to the Wikistrat team that managed the competition throughout.  As proof-of-concept experiments go, this was fantastically gratifying.


My thoughts on the new Wikistrat model

First off, one thing you have to understand with start-ups is that they morph.  Counting two other firms I'm currently involved in, Wikistrat is the eighth start-up that I either worked for or started myself.  And I'm proud to say that all of them are still running - save for the NewRuleSets.Project that was bought up by Enterra Solutions.  So change is inevitable.

When I first linked up with Joel Zamel, he and his compadres were mostly about selling the technology platform, which was cool enough, but the work didn't meet their personal ambitions. So we link up and I'm brought in primarily to start populating the global model (I pen almost a book's worth of material and, on that basis, radically revamp my current speech/brief) and write a biweekly globalization review (CoreGap Bulletin) designed to pull readers into becoming subscribers/authors in the Wikistrat universe.  I liked doing both, but I liked working the global model a whole lot better, because I learned big stuff - big time, and I greatly enjoyed the discipline the system forced upon me (evidenced in the all the new material for the brief).  So, on that score, I was sold and said so many times here in the blog.

Regarding the CoreGap Bulletin, it was fun to write and I enjoyed getting up to speed on the production of digital video shorts, but it seemed like a lot of effort compared to the payoff I/we got from my working on the model, and it wasn't generating the draw for analysts that we wanted.  The first small simulations did better, but we still weren't getting a critical mass participation we were looking for - nor the proof-of-concept on large-scale play.  Looming over all this frustration was the sense that we weren't sufficiently exploiting our best stuff: the analysis that came from expanding the global model and the simulations themselves. So why go on processing global news when we had the means to generate truly differentiated analysis within the Wikistrat universe itself?

So I went back and forth with Joel and the guys and eventually they hatched the idea of the grand strategy competition. The notion was simple: the global model was mature enough to constitute a serious backdrop for a massive play stretched over weeks.  Instead of small numbers of hand-selected types, we'd go for creating a critical mass number whose very size would generate the group dynamics we kept aiming for.  Plus, the game itself would become its own recruitment tool, so we get the double-whammy of proving out the "massively multiplayer consultancy" model while stocking up (in effect, interviewing-by-play) on solid young bloods.

So here we are now with the new package:  rather than the smaller network that expertly works the wiki environment, we go for a much larger network that learns with and grows the global model as we pursue simulations on behalf of interested clients.  Instead of staying lean and mean and trying to grow in that tightly organic sense, we stock up on bodies, ideas, material and price everything out - in all directions - on a discrete basis, thereby avoiding the classic start-up conundrum of "do I get the work first and scramble for bodies or stockpile bodies and then scramble for work?"

So here's my personal thumbnail versions of the rationales that we've settled on in this next iteration of the company:

We run the show like one of those big aggregating sites that pool all the photos shot by professionals (Getty, Reuters, etc.) and then spool them out to buyers: the more you put in, and the more that stuff gets picked up, the more you earn.  You don't try to go for paying people by the "job" so much as by the ideas, which get competitively marketed to buyers.  This way you don't build up unsustainable labor costs but if anybody strikes gold (brings in the right client, produces the right material that attracts the same, etc.), they're immediately tied into direct compensation.  Everybody is directly incentivized. Nobody is ripping off anybody else, and worst case in the meantime, we're still building a great global community of strategists who - at the very least - educate each other and network.

From the perspective of the analyst, we say: you like to do this sort of thing anyway, and many of you already give it away on blogs, so why not pool all the nuggets and market them collectively, and let your bits and pieces earn you bucks here and there.  It's the same effort you're already making; just make some money and network more explicity in the process.  Plus, we've given you - the independent operator working for yourself - a place to bring this or that piece of work you might not be able to handle on your own (so you can't take advantage of the opportunity or connection).

Thinking back over my career, I've always welcomed that sort of stuff when it has - from time to time - popped up.  I consider it sharpening-the-blade activity and I love to share just about everything I generate.  Frankly, this is the same logic I'm applying to "The Emily Updates":  why bother with the big book route when I can sell discretely and directly myself over the web?

Beyond the earning potential, there's the simple reality of more formally and fruitfully connecting up with those of your own kind.  Most of us strategic planners and thinkers live in a professional world of "others," where, quite frankly, we're the odd lot. This model allows us to connect to one another and interact however much we see fit to pursue.  Again, blade-sharpening and useful and . . . fun, when it comes down to it.  Dogs like to play with other dogs - plain and simple.

Exercises fit into the blade-sharpening notion as well. Hell, that's why the military does them. Most professionals don't get that much chance to pursue this sort of thing, buried as they constantly are in producing the plan/report/review/etc.  The simulations simply organize the building up of the global model (GloMod, as I call it), which is the intellectual backdrop for the overall interaction - the Wikipedia-meets-Facebook dynamic.

When all the previous aspects come together in an actual opportunity to advise, via the massively multiplayer consultancy, then so much the better, because the more gigs means the more eyes, and the more eyes means more money for the analysts' whose material attracts those eyes.  

All in all, it strikes me as a wonderfully virtuous circle: stuff I want to do anyway, in a cool environment, with people I want to interact with professionally.  We organize our activities in exciting ways (simulations) that are either bespoke efforts done directly for clients or are used to generate material that clients can explore and exploit on their own.  Worst case: the effort builds up the model that much more, and the blade-sharpening aspects are only that much more heightened as a result.

Again, at the end of the day, it's all stuff I want to do anyway for professional standing. I can do it all by my lonesome in a blog, or even group blog and compete on that level, or I can replace those efforts (or even just compliment them) with something that's more collectively focused so as to generate side income-generating opportunities.  As an analyst, my risk is minimal - as in, you only get what you give, while the upsides are solid and potentially quite empowering.

Most of us analysts fall into this category: we've got all sorts of things going at any one time.  We don't need any single one of them to be THE thing, but we like having several be money-making, career-enhancing in that ramping-up manner (starting small and building).  I think the new Wikistrat model falls into that category: cool association, good skills build-up/maintenance, great networking, solid learning, fun environment, and - through the power of the collective - great opportunities to do big things for big customers, operating at a large scale level of interaction that we typically only get in short bursts in our careers but individually crave on an ongoing basis.

Wikistrat becomes that ongoing basis - the professional association that pays it backward to the members themselves.


Wikistrat Competition Featured in Reuters

As our wiki grows, with the competitors reading and debating grand strategy, Wikistrat was featured in Reuters's piece by Peter Apps titled: "As China Rises, 'Grand Strategy' talk back in style".

Some relevant excerpts:

When Israeli-based political risk consultancy Wikistrat launched a month-long online grand strategy competition between universities, military colleges and similar institutions around the world, it was taken aback by the level of interest.

The contest, which begins this month, will cover the next two decades of global history with teams representing roughly a dozen countries needing to form alliances and adapt to shocks such as revolutions and conflicts.

"I really think it's caught the spirit of the moment," says Wikistrat CEO Joel Zamel. "There is much more interest in a kind of 'grand strategy' approach.

"We've had much more interest from around the world than we expected -- Indian universities will be representing India, Israeli universities Israel, Singaporean Singapore, Japanese Japan, U.S. schools the U.S.. We've had to keep adding countries."


"The war on terror really pushed grand strategy to one side, but as that seems to be winding down there is much more focus on it," said Robert Farley, professor of international relations at the University of Kentucky.

"Students know they will need it in their careers, whether in public service or the private sector. We've recently failed students for failing to be able to answer questions on the rise of China, for example."


Read the full piece here


Mapping the Future

Students From Top Ranked Universities Will Use Wikistrat's Platform to Map the Future


35 Teams Will Compete in First Wiki-Based Grand Strategy Competition

Wikistrat is excited to announce the complete list of competitors participating in the upcoming International Grand Strategy Competition. Teams comprising of PHD and masters students from elite international schools, as well as emerging experts from internationally renowned think tanks, will compete this June in the online wiki-based International Grand Strategy Competition, managed by former Pentagon strategist, and Wikistrat Chief Analyst, Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett.

Students from elite institutions including: 

  • Oxford University
  • University of Cambridge
  • King’s College of London
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Yale University
  • Columbia University
  • Georgetown University
  • NATO’s Atlantic Treaty Association
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • US Air Force
  • New York University and 
  • Tel Aviv University.

These international universities, which educate tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, politicians, military leaders and innovators, will all compete for the $10,000 grand prize. 

They’ll be joined by teams from:

  • UK Defense Forum
  • Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Institute for World Politics
  • University College of London
  • Aberystwyth University
  • Indian Institute of Technology
  • Ohio State University
  • Ohio University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • American Military University
  • Mercyhurst University
  • Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at Kentucky University
  • Claremont Graduate University
  • Finance University of Russia
  • School of Oriental and African Studies
  • Osaka University and 
  • Nanyang Technological University. 

“As the world finds itself in a time of unprecedented change, from the geopolitical turbulence shaking the Middle East with the Arab 2.0 revolutions and the death of Bin-Laden, to the continued growth of emerging economic pillars in the East despite global economic challenges, 2011 presents a fitting time for a revolution in global strategic thinking,” said CEO Joel Zamel. “Utilizing a uniquely interactive Web 2.0 approach that allows for collaboration among experts, Wikistrat is leading the way in revolutionizing the way we conduct geopolitical analysis. We are very excited about the opportunity to expose hundreds of strategic analysts from around the world to Wikistrat’s unique methodology.”

Using Wikistrat’s innovative and interactive model, the teams- each representing a country- will formulate strategies on five issues: global energy security; global economic rebalancing; international terrorism; the Sino-American relationship; and nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Teams will create pages of content on the wiki and scores will be tallied each week based on each team’s depth of analysis.

The high caliber of the participants has attracted the attention of corporate sponsors and Wikistrat is currently finalizing sponsorships agreements with firms who realize the recruiting potential of the Competition. Corporations looking to identify the brightest emerging analytic talent will observe the Competition as it unfolds, watching the next generation of geopolitical strategists in action.

Zamel is eager to see how the participants will adapt to Wikistrat’s model and use it to their advantage: “Wikistrat is giving tomorrow's leaders a unique opportunity and I’m excited to see how these elite competitors will utilize our innovative model to map the future and provide fresh perspectives on the world's biggest challenges.”

Complete details of the competition are available at

"Wikipedia meets Facebook" - Wikistrat's Competition on Jpost

Article on the Jerusalem Post Business News featuring Wikistrat's upcoming Grand Strategy Competition

As instability in the Middle East continues to confuse even the world’s most important decision makers, a small Israeli start-up has launched a new wiki-based competition that it hopes will revolutionize grand strategic planning.

Thirty-five teams of students and analysts from leading academic and military institutions including Columbia, Georgetown, Oxford and the
United States Air Force have already registered for Wikistrat’s Grand Strategy Competition. It will take place throughout June and will be judged by Dr. Thomas Barnett, former senior adviser to the US secretary of defense, and Michael Barrett, former director of strategy at the White House Homeland Security Council.

Wikistrat CEO
Joel Zamel, who together with fellow Australian expat Daniel Green founded the company in Israel last year, said the competition, which they have dubbed “Grand Strategy 2.0,” would provide participants with a “Wikipedia meets Facebook collaborative space for generating content.”

“Generically this kind of work [strategic planning] is done in the form of static reports: that’s the industry standard,” Zamel told The Jerusalem Post. “This is different because it’s wiki-based, allowing strategists and analysts from around the world to collaboratively generate content.”

Read the full article here.

More on the competition at Wikistrat's website


International Grand Strategy Competition - Last Week to Sign Up

As Wikistrat International Grand Strategy Competition is getting closer, more analysts representing leading universities and research institutes are coming on board. For all of you who still don't know what it's all about - have a look here. The first ever collaborative Grand Strategy Competition will take place online throughout June with select teams competing for the $10,000 prize.

This week is the last opportunity to sign up. The best teams will join an exclusive group of teams representing top institutes such as Georgetown University, CSIS, New York University, Columbia University CSIS, the Institute for World Politics, NATO's Atlantic Treaty Association and many more...

If you wish to join - Apply now.


Calling on Top Military Academies, Graduate Schools and Think Tanks 

Please read below PR calling on members at Military Academies and Think Tanks as well as Graduate Students in top schools to participate at 2011 Grand Strategy Competition



For Immediate Release

Media Contact:                                                                               

Milena Rodban    Phone: 410-929-5262   Email:           





(Washington, D.C. - March 21, 2011) Against the backdrop of dramatic political developments around the world, Wikistrat’s International Grand Strategy Competition, the first wiki based competition of its kind, is drawing intense interest from teams at leading universities and think tanks eager to demonstrate their analytical prowess by mapping the future.   

Wikistrat, which is already leading a revolution in geopolitical analysis and forecasting, is now applying its interactive model toward a revolution in grand strategic planning. Wikistrat currently provides businesses with the ability to interact with its innovative system to create scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world's leading strategic thinkers. Now the firm is issuing a challenge to graduate students and emerging experts in the foreign affairs field who are anxious to put their skills and knowledge to the test to analyze and forecast highly relevant issues including the 2.0 revolutions, global economic rebalancing, oil interdependency, nuclear proliferation, and the implications of China's rise.

Managed by former Pentagon strategist and Wikistrat Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas Barnett, the month long competition, starting June 1st, will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within the community of experts while competing for a $10,000 prize.  According to Dr. Barnett, however, the benefits of participation far outweigh the prize: Wikistrat and I are very excited to pool this much young talent in the same cyberspace. You are going to experience what the educational system won’t provide you and what your career will do its best to deny you – the consistent opportunity to think systematically about the future by thinking synergistically across a wide number of domains.  Given globalization’s fast pace of expansion and exponential complexity, these skills will be in higher demand than ever in the years and decades ahead.”

Participants will test their skills, network with other emerging experts in a collaborative environment and showcase their analytical talents before an audience of corporate observers seeking to recruit up and coming talent. These unique opportunities are attracting accomplished students like Zach Miller and Elizabeth Betterbed, who previously graduated first in their class at Williams College and West Point, respectively. Both are excited to represent Oxford University during the competition.  “Given the complex strategic challenges that exist in the world today, the Wikistrat Grand Strategy Competition represents a unique opportunity to apply our academic work to practical situations with potentially important, real-world implications,” says Miller, who will lead the Oxford team.

“As self-aggrandizing as it sounds, we are coming together to map a future worth creating by developing our own myths about its best and worst unfolding pathways.  Like most things in life, you only get what you give. So bring it all,” advises Dr. Barnett.

The challenge has been issued and dozens of teams from leading universities and think tanks are ready to show the world what they can do. Will you join them? Register your team and find out more at



Wikistrat stands at the interface between business and geopolitics. Wikistrat’s geopolitical analysis subscription service tracks the advance of globalization and enables clients to access a unique strategic model, analytical methodology and interactive client delivery services. Interacting with the Wikistrat system allows subscribers to create own scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world’s leading strategic thinkers.

Media Contact:                                                                                

Milena Rodban                                                                                                                    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Phone: 410-929-5262






(Washington, D.C. - March 21, 2011) Against the backdrop of dramatic political developments around the world, Wikistrat’s International Grand Strategy Competition, the first wiki based competition of its kind, is drawing intense interest from teams at leading universities and think tanks eager to demonstrate their analytical prowess by mapping the future.   


                Wikistrat, which is already leading a revolution in geopolitical analysis and forecasting, is now applying its interactive model toward a revolution in grand strategic planning. Wikistrat currently provides businesses with the ability to interact with its innovative system to create scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world's leading strategic thinkers. Now the firm is issuing a challenge to graduate students and emerging experts in the foreign affairs field who are anxious to put their skills and knowledge to the test to analyze and forecast highly relevant issues including the 2.0 revolutions, global economic rebalancing, oil interdependency, nuclear proliferation, and the implications of China's rise.  


Managed by former Pentagon strategist and Wikistrat Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas Barnett, the month long competition, starting June 1st, will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within the community of experts while competing for a $10,000 prize.  According to Dr. Barnett, however, the benefits of participation far outweigh the prize: Wikistrat and I are very excited to pool this much young talent in the same cyberspace. You are going to experience what the educational system won’t provide you and what your career will do its best to deny you – the consistent opportunity to think systematically about the future by thinking synergistically across a wide number of domains.  Given globalization’s fast pace of expansion and exponential complexity, these skills will be in higher demand than ever in the years and decades ahead.”


Participants will test their skills, network with other emerging experts in a collaborative environment and showcase their analytical talents before an audience of corporate observers seeking to recruit up and coming talent. These unique opportunities are attracting accomplished students like Zach Miller and Elizabeth Betterbed, who previously graduated first in their class at Williams College and West Point, respectively. Both are excited to represent Oxford University during the competition.  “Given the complex strategic challenges that exist in the world today, the Wikistrat Grand Strategy Competition represents a unique opportunity to apply our academic work to practical situations with potentially important, real-world implications,” says Miller, who will lead the Oxford team.


 “As self-aggrandizing as it sounds, we are coming together to map a future worth creating by developing our own myths about its best and worst unfolding pathways.  Like most things in life, you only get what you give.  So bring it all,” advises Dr. Barnett.


The challenge has been issued and dozens of teams from leading universities and think tanks are ready to show the world what they can do. Will you join them? Register your team and find out more at



Wikistrat stands at the interface between business and geopolitics. Wikistrat’s geopolitical analysis subscription service tracks the advance of globalization and enables clients to access a unique strategic model, analytical methodology and interactive client delivery services. Interacting with the Wikistrat system allows subscribers to create own scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world’s leading strategic thinkers.




Grand Strategy Competition - Wikistrat

Wikistrat is gearing up for an exciting International Grand Strategy Competition.

Select teams representing leading academic institutions from around the world are invited to participate in the first ever wiki-based grand strategy competition. Managed by Dr. Thomas PM Barnett, this competition will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within that community. Participants can demonstrate their capacity for strategic thought to agencies, institutions and firms seeking to recruit up-and-coming analytic talent.

We are currently reviewing applications by groups representing top Universities and Think Tanks worldwide. There are still open spots available for this exciting event.

To nominate a team, or to see if you institute has been invited, contact us HERE.

Participation is free, and winner team will get a $10,000 prize.

Some of the issues we will cover in the Competition include (Download the full PDF OUTLINE:

1. Global Energy Security

2. Global Economic “Rebalancing” Process

3. Salafi Jihadist Terrorism 

4. Inevitable Sino-American Special Relationship

5. Southwest Asia Nuclear Proliferation

Some of the Scenarios explored will include:

1. Major Biological Terror Attack

2. “2.0 Revolutions” in Arab World

3. + Additional Surprise Shocks


WPR's The New Rules: Leadership Fatigue Puts U.S., and Globalization, at Crossroads

Events in Libya are a further reminder for Americans that we stand at a crossroads in our continuing evolution as the world's sole full-service superpower. Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeking change without cost, and shirking from risk because we are tired of the responsibility. We don't know who we are anymore, and our president is a big part of that problem. Instead of leading us, he explains to us. Barack Obama would have us believe that he is practicing strategic patience. But many experts and ordinary citizens alike have concluded that he is actually beset by strategic incoherence -- in effect, a man overmatched by the job. 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


WPR's The New Rules: Globalization's Staying Power a Triumph of American 'Hubris'

There’s no question that globalization, in its modern American form of expanding free trade, just went through its worst crisis to date.  But while economists debate whether or not we in the West are collectively heading toward a 1938-like “second dip,” it’s important to realize just how myopic our fears are about the future of a world economy that America went out of its way to create, defend, and grow these past seven decades.
Read the entire column, which you can consider my oblique response to Peter Beinart's "Icarus Syndrome" book, at World Politics Review.
See the references for my inspiration on this piece.