Two Pairs of Cultural Glasses

Two Sets of Glasses

Presentation to the NZDF Capability Branch Symposium DISTRIBUTED MISSION TRAINING – COLLECTIVE AND COALITION TRAINING THROUGH SIMULATION by Dr Simon Ewing-Jarvie and Hon Heather Roy, 12 March 2019.

What we’re all here to discuss is how to use simulation techniques to improve the performance of coalitions on operations. There is an amazing array of technologies available to facilitate this and unprecedented connectivity. Here’s the dilemma. It’s 4pm. We don’t have any tech wizardry to show you. And we know there’s a special place in the after-conference drinks venue reserved for people that ask commanders to talk about how they feel about someone else. So, we’ve got How-To Dad to overview our approach to the topic.

The technology available to us and our coalition allies is impressive. The doctrine we have is comparable to anything that we might face. However, coalition problems invariably revolve around politics which is shaped by media as well as misunderstandings between people.

Bottom Line Up Front:

  • There is a significant gap in professional military education. That gap is awareness of and tools for dealing with the inter-cultural friction that is normal within coalitions.
  • In some quarters, these skills are referred to as Cultural Intelligence or CI.
  • In training our commanders, we reinforce the consideration of all stakeholders – enemy, civilian, NGO etc. The same emphasis is often not put into ‘Friendly Forces.’
  • Simulations run for other purposes offer the ability for CI to be observed, assessed and fed back to participants by trained evaluators as a value-added product from a battle-space exercise.
  • We need to use genuine role-players or the real thing for actual benefit.

Our company, TorquePoint, designs and conducts simulations for commercial clients. Our techniques are based on three of the five main strands of red teaming – war gaming, alternative futures and alternative analysis. We have been doing this for six years and our clients are either multinational companies or New Zealand exporters. We operate around the Asia-Pacific region and have engaged with clients from over 20 countries.

For decades, leadership and management techniques have migrated between the military and civilian world. Business war gaming is an example of this although we quickly learned that the culture of some companies is not compatible with the term war-gaming so we also run outcome simulations and course-of-action analyses. Field Marshal von Moltke (the elder) is known for writing that “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength” (better known as “no plan survives contact with the enemy”). Just as von Moltke observed, no organisational plan survives first contact with the marketplace. If only we could show people the consequences of their actions – in advance.

Nearly all corporations have a plan that they think is correct. Few test that plan before execution so, unsurprisingly, most corporations are dissatisfied with their ability to execute it. Sometimes, we use simulation to develop strategy via a series of alternate futures. At other times, the brief is to test the plan to destruction. In reality, the cultural challenges of international business have much in common with the operation of a coalition – particularly at the headquarters level.

There are two fairly random forces at play in a coalition – individual personality and cultural anthropology.

Why do we believe there is a problem? For a start, there’s personal experience on operations and seeing the common assumptions and misunderstandings that occur when you put skilled, senior commanders from 20 or more countries in a room. Second, there’s history.

The concept of being self-aware is at least as old as Sun Tzu’s statement that

‘one who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements’

It’s pleasing to see the NZDF making progress in terms of personal self-awareness but the same can’t be said for every country we operate with. In any case, objective measures of personality are not normally criteria for forming a HQ team. Just prior to D Day 1944, General Eisenhower identified the difficulty of putting together many similar people when he said,

‘I am tired of dealing with a lot of prima donnas. By God, you tell that bunch that if they can’t get together and stop quarrelling like children, I will tell the prime Minister to get someone else to run this damn war.’

In the senior commanders of the Allied coalition of WWII, the extreme similarity or polarity of personality made the team a potentially disastrous combination. Most would agree that Eisenhower’s perspective was not an ideal way to view one’s coalition command team. Is it possible that the lack of synergy created by these dysfunctional teams unnecessarily extended WWII? David Irving (1981) highlighted the differences between two of the leaders of that group in his book ‘The War between the Generals’.

‘Patton seemed to regard Montgomery as his real opponent and not the Nazi commander in Sicily, Hans Hube…to the Americans, Montgomery was pernickety, methodical and deadly slow. It did not help that Patton went around the wrong side of the island and got into Messina before the British.’

However, cultural and social anthropology is the area where the greatest work is still to be done. Anthropologist Franz Boas used a metaphor of ‘cultural glasses’ to refer to the fact that no one can perceive reality as it is or as in the same way as others. We cannot help seeing the world through the “glasses” created by our own culture, and, what is worse, most of us are not aware that they wear them. We tend to see some views on our culture given from the people outside as ‘wrong’ or ‘prejudiced’, but we usually don’t imagine that perhaps our view can also be distorted by the glasses we wear. We can put on a second set of glasses from another culture but we cannot take ours off.

The PME challenge, is to teach commanders about their cultural glasses – not just those of others. In understanding that which is unique and different about ourselves, we tend to become more patient of the differences in others.

Now, let’s address two of the most powerful influences in coalition operations – politics and media – and why, therefore we need to train to deal better with them.

Many think of politics as a dark art and movies and TV shows often reinforce this image. ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Secret City’ are two good examples, with characters acting in Machiavellian ways until the good guys break through to win the day. Great entertainment, but it does skew the way people think about politics and their politicians. The perception is that politics isn’t able to be understood easily and most believe they have no influence at all in the political sphere. Sometimes this is true – but often it is not.

As in every other aspect of life, relationships, understanding and communication in politics are crucial. Win-Win situations are possible and do happen.

The first step in moving towards a win is to recognise that politics is important.

Decisions politicians make affect every aspect of our lives, from local body influences, to regional council decisions and those made at central government level. Effective engagement is the way to, at the very least, have your concerns understood and at best to gain real influence. The message here is “Don’t ignore the politicians!”

We’ve talked about the cultural glasses people wear. Within New Zealand, Parliament and Defence have very very different cultures. This frequently results in misunderstandings, miscommunications and tensions.

When I think back on my days as Associate Minister of Defence it wasn’t uncommon for me to come away from meetings with the distinct feeling that we’d been speaking the same language but neither party had really understood the other. Saying “Yes Minister” while someone is shaking their head could easily have summed up many meetings.

I found myself in the rare position of having been both a Minister of the Crown and an Army Reservist with 10 years in uniform. Post-politics I was keen to help bridge the cultural divide. I was commissioned and was keen to act in an advisory capacity to help Defence understand how Ministers and the government thought. There was recognition that this would indeed be useful, but somehow nothing quite came together. I got the feeling that there was fear of a backlash if such a posting was discovered! An opportunity lost, sadly.

On operations the cultural divide is much the same, but there is a multiplier effect with the number of nations involved. In multi-nation operations there is usually broad agreement at a high level as to desired outcomes, but multiple lower level political agendas to contend with. Boots on the ground are frequently the meat in the sandwich.

I’m sure that those of you who have deployed can think of any number of scenarios where national interest and issues have confused or interfered with the running of operations. Frustrations develop that are hard to deal with when there is no understanding of how and why certain actions and orders are delivered.

Often not much can be done once a decision is made, but knowledge of all views, early dialogue and anticipation can prevent tensions, miscommunications and misunderstandings.

One thing we do in our TorquePoint simulations to help bridge the cultural divide is make people stand in the shoes of others – our friends, our foes, regulators, politicians. It’s an enlightening experience having to think and act as someone else with their opportunities and constraints. When you understand why and how other think it often clarifies what your own course of action should be.

A group that is sometimes liked even less than politicians is the media.

How do you feel when I read through of this list of names?

Jon Stephenson                                                 Paula Penfold

David Fisher                                                       Nicky Hager

Paul Buchanan                                                   Peter Arnett

It’s really interesting watching body language when I talk about journalists in defence circles. Most think they do a poor job and are biased against us. Sometimes that is true, but often it isn’t. What I can say is if you think of the media as the enemy, they become the enemy.

Politicians think this way about journalists too. My own experience is that it is important to develop relationships with media based on respect. For example: don’t tell lies, provide information that fills gaps, talk to media when you are not in a confrontational situation so that when you are, you already have a relationship. It’s also through the media that messages and stories you want told can see the light of day.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist, media have a job to do, just as you do. In a democracy the fourth estate plays an important role in accountability and transparency. A very recent example of this played out last week when Parliament’s Justice Committee (half of the members) blocked China expert Anne-Marie Brady from making a submission about foreign interference in New Zealand elections. It was media who put pressure on the Select Committee Chair, Raymond Huo, to explain or reverse this anti-democratic stance. There’s much more to this story (which I’m happy to discuss in more detail later) but the point is the media did drive the behaviours we expect in a democracy.

Standing in media shoes, another scenario we use in TorquePoint simulations, gives a different understanding to the pressures they face.

Considering the influences of politics and media combined delivers excellent learnings. Imagine this situation in a multi-nation operation:

You’re in a coalition HQ, working with colleagues from other nations. The soldier standing next to you in the J5 cell will be privy to information regarding their national interest that no-one else will be aware of.

They will come under pressure from their own national media to talk (and possibly media from other countries). Some journalists will be pro-action, some will be anti-action. All of these things need to be managed, prepared for and understood.

Playing out real-life issues in this sort of situation is an excellent way of preparing those likely to find themselves in culturally diverse environments.

Time to consider the “So What?” How do we use existing or future simulations to solve all this? In a nutshell, a second set of trained observers watching and recording the behaviour of individuals as they participate in normal simulated coalition activity is the start point. This material is evaluated and used as part of one-to-one feedback for personal development. In time, it may be possible to use AI systems to do part of this work, enabling a simulation to record not only the ‘what’ of the individual actions but also the inter-personal ‘how’. There are, as always, caveats. Individuals who know they are being observed change behaviour (the Hawthorne Effect). This has to be considered against the ethical dilemma of evaluating people when they are not aware it’s occurring.

Using soldiers in jeans to pretend to be rioters for training is limited in its utility. Soldiers will act as soldiers do, not ill-disciplined mobs. In the same vein, having service personnel acting as politicians, media or members of other cultures is not as good as the real thing. That’s why we get real politicians, real journalists and real government officials to join our commercial simulations. If you want to understand the challenges of interacting with a German officer – you need to actually interact with a German officer!

This means having access to a big pool of people. In May 2017, we presented at the 10th International Lessons Learned Conference in Queenstown. Our session was called Red Teams, White Forces & Black Swans. One of the recommendations we made was to stand up a part-time civilian group – the ‘White Force’ – who could be called upon to participate in exercises. This built on Heather’s experience on Exercise Southern Katipo 15 as a liaison officer organising hundreds of civilians in Marlborough to take up roles from Mayors to tourists displaced by the troubles. These people want to do more exercises.

The idea was reinforced by the US Colonel at the conference who thought that this would work well for them as they prepare to train for operations in dense urban environments. The spontaneous reaction of real civilians in a high-rise training facility when soldiers burst through the door of their apartment was the experience needed, not that of a group of soldiers in civilian clothes. Former officers playing tribal chief is not going to get the best learning outcome – fun for them though it is!

The outcome of any coalition is a mix of technology, doctrine and people. The first two can be standardised but the third cannot. The multiplication signs are important. Multiply anything by zero and the result is also zero. An over-emphasis on technology and doctrine to the detriment of enabling people to thrive amid inter-cultural friction (in the Clausewitzian sense) is like a doctor saying the operation was a success but unfortunately the patient died. Why do we care? We believe New Zealand needs a strong defence force. One of our children is currently deployed. Another has deployed many times. It’s important to keep a broad conversation about Defence going on in society.

What we are proposing is the routine integration of observation and evaluation of participants during distributed mission training focussing on the cross-cultural behaviours of each participant. This can also be done through post-session analysis of video recording of the session. Information gleaned is used for one on one coaching of individuals in order to improve cultural intelligence. It’s our experience that the greatest benefit is often accrued by the coaches.

A part-time ‘White Force’ of civilians will provide authentic experience of cultural interactions when collective training doesn’t involve international forces. The NZDF alumni should also be used. CI titles should be added to PME reading lists. Two sets of cultural glasses and two sets of eyes on participants in distributed mission training.

This value-added product from existing simulations, both high and low tech, is relatively inexpensive and will become a significant force multiplier.