DOD's vision test

There's one sure way the Pentagon can sabotage its latest efforts to transform the military: focus on operations instead of people.

These days, Defense Department officials are quick to point out that information technology will fail to make its forces lighter on their feet and more lethal if the services do not change the way they work, whether it's battlefield operations, logistics or personnel management. That kind of thinking — what the commercial world calls a focus on business processes — is right, as far as it goes.

But it won't go very far if DOD does not foster the innovative thinking that always drives dramatic changes in industry or government.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recognizes this. Last November, Rumsfeld tapped retired Navy Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski to lead DOD's new Office of Transformation. Cebrowski, of course, left his mark on the military by championing the concept of network-centric warfare, in which technology gives warfighters instant access to the information they need to conduct battles.

It's not that Cebrowski was that much smarter than others or that he understood the technology better. His gift was making a compelling case for approaching standard operations in new ways.

It's the difference between problem solving and innovation. Technology, at the simplest level, is a utility. It crunches numbers, delivers messages, displays images. Any IT specialist can help you do your job faster, better or cheaper. But to bring about radical change requires vision, not just ingenuity. Cebrowski did not sell the Navy on network-centric warfare, but on his vision of network-centric warfare.

The Pentagon has always been a model for leadership development. The vision for transformation must be instilled in its leaders across the department and throughout the ranks, if this initiative is to have any chance at all. Otherwise, DOD will end up trying to rebuild itself with an army of plumbers and no architects.

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