Although the internet is ablaze with tales of horses and bayonets, I am not in the Marine Corps or any other branch of service to our country, so why in the heck would I read Warfighting: The U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy?. Well according to corporate consultant, Mark B. Fuller: "Replace the word 'combat' with competition, 'officer' with manager, 'soldier' with frontline worker, 'enemy' with rival, and Warfighting becomes a remarkably trenchant management handbook." It turns Mark's just not blowing smoke. He's right. When I think of any branch of the military, particularly the Marine Corps, mental images of strict discipline, following orders, chain of command, and brute force come to mind. So I found this book quite surprising that the Marines operate warfare via decentralized decision-making based on strategic intent. Though the book has numerous parallels between warfare and business, I will mention five of them.
Warfare by attrition seeks victory through the cumulative destruction of the enemy's material assets by superior firepower and technology. Conversely, warfare by maneuver circumvents a problem by attacking it from a position of advantage rather than meeting it straight on. The aim in maneuver warfare is to render the enemy incapable of resisting by shattering his moral and physical cohesion -- his ability to fight as an effective, coordinated whole -- rather than to destroy him incrementally through attrition, which is generally more costly and more time-consuming.
2. Philosophy of Command
Marine Corps doctrine provides a philosophy for combat but does not consist of procedures to be applied in specific situations so much as it establishes general guidance that requires judgment in application. Instead, the art of war requires an intuitive ability to grasp a unique battlefield situation, a creative ability to devise a practical solution, and a resolve to act. The Marine Corps' style of warfare requires intelligent leaders with a penchant for boldness and initiative down to the lower levels.
3. Focus of Effort
Combat power is a measure of the total destructive force (e.g., troop strength, maneuvers, tempo, surprise, geography, climate) one can bring to an enemy at a given time. Concentration (convergence of effort in time and space) and speed (rapidity of action) generate momentum to add punch to one's actions. Armies stand a better chance of success by concentrating strength against an enemy weakness instead of strength against strength. Since focus of effort represents a bid for victory, it forces leaders to concentrate decisive combat power just as it forces leaders to accept risk.
4. Commander's Intent
First and foremost, to generate the tempo of operations required and to best cope with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat, command must be decentralized. Subordinate commanders must make decisions on their own initiative, based on the understanding of the seniors' intent, rather than passing information up the chain of command and waiting for the decision to be passed down. The Marine Corps does not accept lack of orders as justification for inaction.
5. Combined Arms
Combined arms is the full integration of multiple efforts in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must make himself more vulnerable to another. This is best illustrated by an example.
- The Marines use assault support to quickly concentrate superior ground forces for a breakthrough.
- The Marines use artillery and air support to support the infantry penetration.
- The Marines use deep air support to interdict enemy reinforcements.
As a consequence of the combined arms:
- To defend against the infantry attack, the enemy must make himself vulnerable to supporting arms.
- If the enemy seeks cover from the supporting arms, the Marine infantry can maneuver against him.
- To block the Marine penetration, the enemy must quickly reinforce from his reserve.
- To avoid the effects of deep air support, the enemy must stay off of the roads which means he can only move slowly.
- If the enemy moves slowly, he cannot reinforce in time to prevent the Marine breakthrough.
The combined arms create a dilemma for the enemy.
Our son is a United States Marine. My wife and I were thrilled beyond words when he returned home safely from Afghanistan. As my experience has been limited to business, without telling my son what was in the book, I asked him about his experience in the military. His reply was almost word for word from the book. He is a mortar man and noted how his orders reflect objectives, and it is up to his unit to figure out how to accomplish those objectives. He relayed this story:
During my time in Afghanistan, I experienced multiple firefights. What they all had in common was the commander's intent, focus of effort, and combined arms. In a town called Kumari, we were getting attacked by sniper fire, machine gun fire, RPGs, mortars, and had already hit 2 IEDs. The person in charge decided that we couldn't stand still to fight them off. We developed a plan where we would have most of the people from the trucks dismount, while at the same time every gunner starts shooting at the windows and holes they were shooting at us from. This way we had covering fire where the enemy would duck their heads so we could move. As the gunners were shooting, the dismounts got into position to start kicking down doors and maneuvering on the enemy. We hit them hard by surprise at first, which ultimately forced them to withdraw, and allowed the rest of us to get back to base safely. With the leadership of our officer, staff noncommissioned officers, and noncommissioned officers combined with the "no questions asked" attitude we all carry, none of us were killed in that firefight. In-combat planning with instant obedience to orders is by far, in my opinion, the one thing that separates the Marines from every other branch of service.
— Steven S Sheppard, LCpl, USMC
Autodesk operates like the Marines. We have a strategic intent process where executives lay out the annual strategy. We have a strategic realization process where individual teams make plans to implement that strategy. We don't just sit around and wait for CEO, Carl Bass, to tell us what to do. Instead, we form shared responsibility teams. This "nearest to the customer" process allows us to create products and services that best fit customer needs.
To borrow from a famous quote, "Business is hell."
Strategy is alive in the lab.