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Stop Aiming at the Wrong Targets
Look up, Look out, Look Deep
Welcome to Polymathic Being, a place to explore counterintuitive insights across multiple domains. These essays take common topics and explore them from different perspectives and disciplines and, in doing so, come up with unique insights and solutions. Fundamentally, a Polymath is a type of thinker who spans diverse specialties and weaves together insights that the domain experts often don’t see.
Today's topic ties together some of my experience in the Army and how it helps with the very same Systems Thinking in technology and business that we’ve covered here before. Simply put it’s the idea that, in war, you have to look up and across at targets both right in front of you and also those targets that you can’t even see over the horizon to be successful.
This is Veteran’s Day Weekend in the U.S. so it’s a fitting time to share some experiences from the Army and how it applies to technology and business. I served as an Airborne and Ranger qualified Field Artillery Officer from 2005 until 2011 with overseas assignments in Korea and Iraq.
My preferred role in Field Artillery was that of a Fire Support Officer (FSO). Simply put, an FSO works with an Infantry or Armored Company Commander and helps coordinate the long-range rocket, missile, and artillery fire in the battle. We lead teams of Forward Observers who are the ones who call in precision fire at the forward edges of battle. This is in contrast to the Field Artillery gun/rocket units which are further back in the battle.
This role is critical because the Company Commander is focused on the near fight meaning what’s within range of their weapon systems. The FSO is the one focused on what’s called the deep fight (preferred) as well as supporting fires, as needed, within the near fight. (not preferred)
This meant I had to anticipate, predict, and adjust to the enemy movement with the goal that, by the time my unit got to my targets, there wasn’t much left to fight.
Some of these ideas were first introduced in the essay Lazy Leadership where the successful leader brings in all assets available to the fight versus just blasting through the near targets over and over.
Yet even within the near fight that an infantry soldier would find themselves, you still have to look up at the targets further away. A great example of this challenge is in what’s called a Walking Range.
Many of you have an idea of a rifle range where you sit or lie on the ground shooting a fixed target at a set distance. The walking range changes this by having you move down the range while engaging a variety of targets at different distances. Some of them are only 25 meters in front of you and others are out at 300 meters. The challenge is that the 25-meter targets are always smaller and will pop up and drop much faster than the longer-range targets.
The trick is, if you hit all of your 300-meter targets, they’ll never ‘become’ 25-meter targets. However, any 300-meter target you miss or fail to engage will continue to get closer and closer and your time to engage will get shorter and shorter.
Applied to Technology and Business
The same challenges as those targets exist in the development of advanced technologies and business environments all the time. In our drive to get something/anything done we often fail to look up and engage those further targets. Even worse, we forget to use our strategic resources to eliminate those targets before they are even within our tactical view.
The number of times in the Army and in Corporate America where I’ve been told just to put my head down and focus on the immediate target and then told to do it again and again and again underpins much of what we’ve explored here before.
Systems Thinking is engagement in depth and across domains and disciplines to ensure we are bringing in the proper solution to complex problems from the right resources even, and especially even, if those targets are still over the horizon.
What examples do you have of this concept?
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Further Reading from Authors I really appreciate
I highly recommend the following Substacks for their great content and complementary explorations of topics that Polymathic Being shares.