In his book Blink, Malcom Galdwell discusses the experience of Paul Van Riper in creating structures for spontaneity. In 2000, Van Riper was given the task of leading the opposition force for a wargame called Millennium Challenge ’02. Van Riper’s approach contains some key leanings for infrastructure architects.
Under the Millennium Challenge scenario, a rogue military commander in the Persian Gulf has broken away from his government, and is threatening to bring war to the entire region. Paul Van Riper was given the role of the rogue commander. The entire exercise took over two years to plan, two weeks to execute, and cost over 250 million dollars. The goal of the exercise was to test the military’s theories on how to organize command and control in a large scale conflict.
The Unites States (or Blue Team) bet heavily on technology in the exercise. Realizing that warfighting was as much about ideas and cultures as it was about weapons and armies, the Pentagon developed a series of formal tools that allowed them to measure each of these axes: military, economic, social and political. The military commanders were given access to real-time maps of the combat situation, intelligence about the social and cultural situations. They were given an unprecedented amount of data, and a rigorous methodology on how to use that data. The Blue Team spent an incredible amount of time and effort on trying to lift what military folks call the “fog of war”, that level of uncertainty of exactly what is happening on the battlefield.
Paul Van Riper’s Red Team, in contrast, had little in the way of technology. Van Riper didn’t believe that you could life the fog of war. Therefore, his strategy was to provide overall guidance to his team about his intent, but to leave the actual implementation of how to prosecute the war up to his end commanders. For example, he would tell his folks “I want to disrupt their command and control” or “I want to sink these ships.” The actual methodology was left up to the end commanders.
Who won Millennium Challenge? The Red Team kicked the Blue Team’s ass for a week. Eventually, the Pentagon began applying restrictions to Van Riper’s team to make sure that the “correct” results occurred. Like, you can’t fight back, for example. I think that there are some powerful lessons for infrastructure architects. You cannot lift the fog of war. Architecture must stay agile to be relevant. You have to give your own warfighters enough freedom to make good decisions that are relevant for their own business goals.