New Zealand Chief of Army Writing Competition Winner of the New Zealand Defence Force Civilian Writing Category December 2020.

Navigating A Path To 2040

By Mr. C. Stokes

How does a future focused NZ Army adapt and evolve, now and over time, to remain a partner of choice as a relevant and viable force that can continue to add value within an integrated coalition in 2040?

Planning for future scenarios is more problematic now than ever before. It is impossible to fully predict the demands within the next 10 years, let alone the next twenty. Who could have predicted that our largest deployment in more than a decade of international volatility would be within our own borders, protecting our citizenry against a merciless virus? Faced with such an uncertain landscape, the challenge to the NZ Army becomes one of how to navigate to the future with so few points of reference. To do so successfully will require a clear understanding of where we begin from, and where we wish to get to [1].

When we consider current reality, it is possible to become discouraged. There are extremely limited resources at our disposal. Nonetheless, such limitations can become the basis for inspiration [2]. Sir Ernest Rutherford said of New Zealand “We don’t have a lot of money, so we have to think”. The number 8 wire mentality and ability to achieve astonishing amounts on the smell of an oily rag have served New Zealand well [3][4]. New Zealanders have continued to prove that even the scarcest resources, liberally seasoned with ingenuity and leveraged appropriately, can produce astonishing results. Now we must utilise the opportunities of the age of adaptive thinking and the cloud. 

From there, we turn to the destination in mind. Having a clear vision is critical to setting a course for the future [5]. It sets the direction from the outset and whenever a decision needs to be made or a correction in deviation implemented, it provides the reference for those to be made against. It also acts as the measuring stick for all decision to be weighed against. If the action will not move closer to achieving the vision, or may in fact be counter to it, then that should give cause to reconsider. Once there is a clear launching point in the present and an aspirational future, this can generate a creative tension between the two. This is associated with increased possibility thinking, problem solving and collaborative interactions [6].

The NZ Army have established a definitive vision: to be a world class Army with Mana. While simple and concise in terms of how it reads, that vision carries a considerable amount of depth. Although the word Mana is commonly translated as ‘respect’, there is far more to it than that. It depends on the perspective of whom that Mana is from. It encompasses having the confidence of those they serve, the trust of those they partner with, the deference of those who oppose them and pride in their calling. Understanding exactly what is aspired to becomes the true north, the reference point against which all decisions are measured [7]. The perpetual question becomes “How does this grow the Mana of NZ Army?”. 

Learning is the most effective means to get from the present to that vision. It is the organization that is best able to orientate itself to the demands in front of it, take action, reflect on the outcome then apply what is learnt that will give itself an undeniable advantage [8][9]. Each member of the service must have the opportunity to contribute, with learning and continuous improvement embedded within the culture [10]. Such a learning journey must be initiated with and sustained by support from leadership, otherwise there will be little commitment from others and any progress will likely peter out quickly [11]. Leadership should arm their people with the intent, then provide the freedom and psychological safety to pursue creative lines of inquiry. This allows their curiosity draw them down paths that may not be immediately apparent.   Leaders will need to demonstrate courage by giving their people the necessary freedom, commitment to allow them the time to bring their ideas to fruition and integrity by ensuring this is more than simply lip service [12].  Fortunately, these are qualities more than familiar for leaders within NZ Army [13]. 

It will also require a healthy dosage of comradeship to support their people should things not work out. As much as can be learned from the successful outcomes, it is perhaps the failures and how they are responded to that most define a learning organization [14]. Allowing people the safe space to fail fosters their courage to strive for ever more imaginative solutions [15]. Free and frank retrospectives will enable testing of hypotheses, identify further avenues, and potential points of leverage [16]. Individuals can identify where ideas need refining, redevelopment or even redirection [17]. Leaders can contribute through honest feedback while reaffirming the mission focus, refraining from pre-empting solutions. Doing so can demotivate individuals and limit the originality of the solutions they develop [18].

Effective learning requires drawing upon a diversity of ideas, experiences and perspectives [19]. The wider the range, the greater potential opportunities that can be uncovered [20]. This will likely involve reaching beyond NZ Army. A key characteristic of high-performing teams is the ability for members to periodically disengage from the team, seek out new information and insights, then return to share with the team for mutual benefit [21]. Options to allow this could range from secondments or partnerships with the wider NZDF or even private sector organizations. There could even be value to individuals being able to move on from the Army and then return, bringing with them the greater breadth of experience. This in turn grows the knowledge base of NZ Army.

Plotting a course for the future will be anything but straightforward. Decisions around scaling, lines of investment or choosing allies will need to be made amidst considerable uncertainty. They may also need to shift as circumstances and the geo-political landscape alter. What must remain for NZ Army, if it is to remain relevant through to 2040, is the need to remain focused on achieving the vision, to be an Army with Mana. It must then unleash the power of the curiosity and determination to learn of its people. Such a focus will ensure we maintain mana in the eyes of those we serve, those we partner with, those we oppose and most importantly, in the eyes of ourselves.

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[1] Robert Fritz (1989). The Path of Least Resistance. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. 

[2] Owain Service & Rory Gallagher (2018). Think Small : The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals.  London, UK: Michael O’Mara Books Ltd

[3] A W Beasley (2015). Zeal and Honour: The Life and Times of Bernard Freyberg. Wellington, NZ; Winter Productions.

[4] Vincent Orange (1984). Park – The Biography of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park. London, UK; Methuen.

[5] Daniel Coyle (2018). The Culture Code:  The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.  New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.

[6] Robert Fritz (1989). The Path of Least Resistance. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

[7] Daniel Coyle (2018). The Culture Code:  The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.  New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.

[8] Peter Senge (1990). “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York, NY: Random House.

[9] L. David Marquet (2020). Leadership Is Language : The Hidden Power of What You Say–And What You Don’t. New York, NY: Portfolio.

[10.] Daniel Coyle (2018). The Culture Code:  The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.  New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.

[11] Tim Clark (2020). To Foster Innovation, Cultivate a Culture of Intellectual Bravery. Harvard Business Review, Oct 13 2020. Retrieved Oct 16 2020. www.Hbr-org.cdn.ampproject.org

[12] L. David Marquet (2015). Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules. London, UK: Penguin Books Ltd.

[13] NZ Defence Force Values – www.nzdf.mil.nz 

[14] Amy C. Edmonson, ‘Strategies for learning from failure’ Harvard Business Review (Apr 2011). Retrieved 23 October 2020. www.Hbr-org.cdn.ampproject.org

[15] Daniel Coyle (2018). The Culture Code:  The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.  New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein (2009). Nudge: Improving Decision about Health, Wealth and Happiness. London, UK: Penguin Books

[18] L. David Marquet (2015). Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules. London, UK: Penguin Books Ltd.

[19] Peter Senge (1990). “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York, NY: Random House.

[20] John Seddon (2005), “Freedom from Command and Control: Rethinking Management for Lean Service”. Portland, Oregon: Taylor & Francis Inc.

[21] Daniel Coyle (2018). The Culture Code:  The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.  New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.