As I've mentioned in other venues, the current state of the American economy is going south, and it's claiming some business ventures. One of them is the insurance career that I began seven months ago, with extremely high hopes and enormous confidence. Now I'm looking for new opportunities.

One of the things to which I keep returning is that nearly forty years in wargaming, with a lifelong interest and education in military history, has to amount to something of value to business. On top of that I have an Master's Degree in political science from Duquesne University, a rather respected institution especially in this region, so it's more than a matter of saying that I like taught myself and stuff by watching TV.

I noticed one negative trend though when I worked in a corporate restructuring project for a local financial services company, and it was a serious parochialism. Pittsburgh's business culture can be bad enough in that way; I firmly believe that if a Pittsburgh business person does something different today than he did yesterday, then he feels a compulsion to to go Confession for it. People do not adapt easily, and when times go bad they would rather pine for the Good Old Days to come back than to change in order to create something new and possibly even better.

Connected with that, there were many people, smart and educated too, who had a hard time looking beyond there comfort zone for inspiration. We faced some serious challenges, and there were some who would look at them narrowly as numbers games, or problems to be met through meetings and more meetings.

During this time I probably added to my reputation for being from some other planet by saying something like "Alexander the Great had similar problem with succession planning and look what happened..." or by invoking the example of Peter the Great in a Human Resources context. One colleague talked about mergers and acquisitions as a way to avoid a hostile takeover of our own bank; I saw a parallel with George Keenan's theory of containment of Soviet expansionism, validated by the happy end of the Cold War.

Admittedly, I was a little out of place in what was an all-star team of the corporation's best and brightest, especially as they tended to have MBA's, and my graduate degree was missing that all-important B in the middle. In addition, I was promoted from a smaller department that had had its share of management problems, and which I was thrilled to escape.

The whole time I was there, and in fact throughout my worklife, I have been repeatedly struck by the both the applicability of the lessons of military and political history to business, and the sad fact that many business professionals tend to ignore them. Maybe it's because they're uncomfortable with the subject, as war is a dirty business (though I've seen ethical lapses in the private sector that would disgrace the mafia), lack of knowledge, or just comfort with the familiar, but it seems that many executives do not tap into a reservoir of historical experience that could enhance their ultimate victory condition - which is putting money into pockets.

Therefore I am giving some serious consideration to reaching out to the business community as a speaker and consultant, teaching that the lessons of yesterday's wars are fully applicable to the problems of today's commerce. Connected with that, I have some ideas for articles that I'll probably write before long; I'll put them in the queue along with my game development and Line of Departure work.

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Comment by Jim Werbaneth on April 26, 2008 at 10:30pm

I saw the "good cop/bad cop" business all the time. I was once in a meeting in which my manager turned it around the exact opposite by telling us how well the department was doing, and how much money we were making the bank. As most of us by that time were working at least two jobs to make ends meet, I asked if that meant if there were going to be any raises or bonuses. Her response was to say no, as times were tough, and the bank wasn't doing that well despite a record stock price. She then admitted that the books were slightly cooked so that when it came to reporting results to upper management we were great, when it came to reporting them to HR for compensation, we sucked, and that's how it was always going to be.

Also, I have to ask: Did you notice if the military and business people tend to define the word "crisis" differently? I used to see many management types see everything as a crisis, and demand a miracle every day in order to fix it, and often use that as a means of controlling the grunts, a kind of threat inflation on the corporate level. Others had not sense of proportion.

But the ex-military people I knew, and often the people with heavy industry roots on the plant floor, tended to take things more in stride. It wasn't a crisis until the guns were all jammed and Charlie was coming through the wire by their standards. Then they would respond accordingly, with energy and alacrity. Until then, routine problems were handled routinely, and generally solved without fuss.

As always, there are exceptions. Some of the finest colleagues and bosses I ever had were fundamentally corporate types, and one or two of the worst, even dangerous, idiots were ex-military. Then again, I think one was thrown out.
Comment by Skip Franklin on April 26, 2008 at 10:01pm

It is interesting that you bring this theory up of using military experience in the workplace. I work in a 4-person Information Technology (IT) shop. One of my co-workers is a retired US Air Force Reservist who did some active duty and participated in Desert Shield, Desert Storm and even Panama when we went after Noriega. Her job was providing communications (the unsecure portion after it is all encyrpted) in both locations. I also work around other ex-military types like one who has gone to Afghanistan twice as an Army Captain running patrols around in the mountains. I consider both of these people as smarter than the average manager-level person.

It seems that most of the managers that have no military experience just don't seem to have a clue in how to handle crisis and do not look far in the future when determing how well their decisions will affect the organization. They just tend respond to the numbers game. Our organization (which some can figure out if they have read a post or two of mine in the past on CSW) has numerous ways of generating numbers that tell us how well we are doing. Some are numbers that show how well we serve the customers in terms of satisfaction. Some numbers are how well we move product. Some numbers are how well our employees work. In all cases our upper staff tell us how bad we are doing then a few weeks later how much we are better than other organizations in the same business or parent company. It feels like the old bad cop/good cop interrogation technique used in the old way of break them down then buld them up before they leave thing used in Basic Training.

Basically I have learned to trust retired military people to get the job done with minimum fuss and not trust the rest. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. There are some very good business people that run the show around the organization but I would be wary of where they should work. Some people are good with intangible theory stuff (thinkers) and some are good with concrete theory (doers). A very few are good at both. These are the smart people who should go off and start their own business. Hopefully those few who are good at thinking and doing are too scared to start their own business and would rather stay in the coporate world and would taker over here where I work. Me, I'm a doer with lots of training in the thinking but whose humor keeps him in the lower-middle are of management. Nobody, even me, doesn't trust a goofball. Most of my customers (lower-level management types) do like my lack of reverence, laugh at mistakes, self-deprecating type of support. When a customer mentions that they are worried that they will destroy the computer I say, "no problem, we'll just send you another so play with it", which helps them get over being scared about using the computer.

I do have a good job and don't have your problems but wish you good luck and hope you are successful in your endevours. I'd like to see your military experience also turn around any company you train.
Comment by Jim Werbaneth on April 24, 2008 at 3:44pm
I used to think that insurance was a service that couldn't be outsourced, and I was right. Unfortunately I didn't figure on the fact that when times get tough, people worry about paying for the essentials of life, such as food and rent, and they don't count extra insurance among them, even though the insurance that I was selling would have helped pay for those very same essentials in the event of a personal emergency.

For the record too, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I'm licensed, capable, eligible, and empowered to sell above-said insurance. I'm just not going out and doing a hundred cold calls per week to businesses in order to do so.

With all that in mind, I've been asking myself, what is unique about us as wargamers that can't be outsourced, and hopefully can be marketed? We have our expertise in military history. More than that, we are used to applying its principles to immediate problems, even it's the kind that exists solely on a cardboard map.

I don't blame NAFTA for all of my problems. I blame myself for most of them, and idiots of both parties for a lot of the rest.

I also see some corporate executives.fostering cultures that are entirely antithetical to prosperity. One could argue that a point in my life, I helped implement some incredibly dumb policies that hurt both the company its employees including myself. I'm just glad that when I was only following orders, I was more stupid than immoral.

However, my corporate existence taught me a great deal, if nothing else than how things work in corporate America. I don't see companies as the enemy so much as potential customers, and I happen to like economic freedom. That includes the freedom to make stupid mistakes, and I've certainly exercised my freedom.

At the same time, I'm hoping that the same freedom extends for private enterprise to be a little more open-minded about solutions, which I can offer. I spoke with a local contact yesterday, a reformed accountant, who marveled at the millions that corporations spend on bad advice from consultants who don't give a damn about them, and offer little in the way of applicable, creative solutions. She was actually on the enthusiastic side about my idea, especially as I'd probably be less expensive than the usual suspects, with the all too frequently inferior product.

So my shingle is up, my services are being tendered, and I'm hoping that there's some interest.
Comment by John Kranz on April 23, 2008 at 1:09pm
Jim, check out James Istvanffyprofile and especially his consulting business that does just what you are postulating.

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