Dynamic inputs both Internal and External

"Dynamic inputs to a nation include both internal and external forces." — What is that supposed to mean?

Any group of humans that does things together will conduct itself according to a fairly large number of motivating factors. Some of the factors will be the activities of the members of the group. These activities will be related to internal motivational forces, environmental factors, and motivational factors and actions that impinge on them. Please examine this idea in terms of a fictitious but plausible human community. Most or all of the group may be hungry. The weather may be good for food gathering or bad. There may be a neighboring community nearby that is also sure to be hungry and ready to go out to gather food. So out of all of these factors a decision will arise as to how many community members are to remain at home to take care of those too young to join in the hunt and to carry on maintenance activities, which community members are to go out to obtain food, the various details regarding who is in charge of group activities while securing food, etc. But their plans will also be influenced by the diminished potential for finding food resources in proximity to the people living nearby, the potential for friction or even conflict if their group trespasses on the other group's territory, etc.

As population sizes increase, as geographical ranges expand, etc., the number of factors that a leader must manage will increase. Even when there are only two people in a group, the moods and priorities of each of them may ebb and flow. When a group get larger there are more and more changes that may occur, and sometimes many relatively small changes will all tend in the same direction thus causing a major change in group behavior.

A competent leader will understand that it is a mistake to plan on humans behaving like automatons. An attractive force, e.g., extorting the people to work toward a common goal, will draw even individuals at the bottom of a hierarchy toward unity and harmony in their activities, just as a magnet will cause long chains of metal filings to form automatically. A negative force, e.g., punishing people for any behavior that is seen as detracting from the goals set by the leader, will have individuals behaving in incoherent ways because the potential for punishment drives people to do anything that they believe will avoid their being punished. Perhaps the least destructive behavior that can be achieved under these conditions will be that individuals, to the extent possible, will simply avoid acting.

For real-world indications of how these two main types of leadership work, compare the industrial production or the agricultural production of North Korea and South Korea.

As an exercise in introspection, or perhaps as a small-scale interview project conducted among people in your personal circle, consider how you or your friends would behave in two different kinds of working environments. In the first, you are given demerits for any failures such as inability to meet a daily production quota, when you see a better way to perform some task than the employer-approved method you are reprimanded and told you are not being paid to think, your workplace environment and even the restrooms are under electronic surveillance, records are kept of any telephone calls or e-mails received or initiated by you while on the job, etc.  In the second, you are kept informed as to the positive goals of your organization. (Perhaps your company buys bulk beans, cleans the beans, and packages them in one pound containers for retail sale. Customers do not always get the dust-free product they would like. A problem of greater seriousness is that sometimes bean-sized pebbles get picked up by the bean harvesting machinery and in the end customers are injured when they try to chew them. Your company has the goal of selling clean beans free of insects and any other foreign material.) You would be rewarded if you changed procedures to eliminate more foreign matter in the final product. Workers are divided into self-governing teams of between ten and fifteen members, and with rare exception are able to deal with people who don't do their fair share of the work or who create other problems. The exceptions are generally so serious that there will be an open process of investigation and adjudication.

The more complex a system is, the more potential failure points may be involved. Not only are there more things to go wrong individually, but a failure at one point may lead to a cascade of failures fanning out behind it. When New York City was hit by the superstorm called Sandy in 2012, everyone could see flooding would be an immediate consequence. What nobody seems to have thought about was the consequence of hospital basements filling with water and putting emergency electrical generators out of action. Nor had they considered how they could evacuate patients when electrically powered elevators became inoperative. In the 9/11 catastrophe the city learned that policemen and firemen could not communicate with each other because their radios shared no common frequencies.

When complex systems develop problems, a top-down system of control through a chain of command, and a bottom-up system of intelligence gathering and reporting simply will not work. Whoever is coordinating rescue activities for such a complex system will ideally have direct access when needed to all nodes of control in the chain of command and information transmission, and will also be able to depend on individual initiates at each level to meet the general goal of restoring good function to the system. It must be expected that new problems may emerge at any time, and that adequate coordination of efforts will not always be easy because of snags that develop or because the need to coordinate two activities is not seen soon enough to get things to come together at the right time.

To rescue patients from a hospital it is necessary not only to bring them down from upper floors, but they will require transportation from the flood-impaired hospital to some other suitable refuge. There will be no ambulances in service because the roads around the hospital are flooded. So news of the need for boats must be transmitted up the chain of information to someone who can send out orders to bring in the boats. In the whole process of storm recovery there will be many such "brushfire" events to be handled. It would be counterproductive for some "decider" official to give angry orders, saying that the boats need to be there "yesterday."

Is it now clear that the best preparation for such emergencies will be individuals at each level of control and coordination who can maintain a map of all parts of the system that they must try to govern? Ideally, a commander in such a situation would have a mental map that is being constantly updated as new information comes in. The next best basis for action would be a physical map of connections that had been carefully laid out beforehand. Some provision must be made for keeping the map continually updated. The constant need for any complex system to be actively shaped the way a potter shapes clay on a potter's wheel is a fact that cannot be ignored. Constant change is the nature of such systems, Constant adaptation to those changes is the price that a leader must pay even to try to keep the system working properly. It is impossible for a leader to do everything, so delegation of leadership functions is important. However, sometimes two or more low-probability events will happen to occur together, and the unanticipated consequences may have major destructive effects. One example of such combinations of unusual sources was Superstorm Sandy itself. The storm itself was very powerful, but instead of being blown out to sea in the ordinary way of such hurricanes, it was blocked by a ridge of high pressure over Greenland and it also combined with an arctic front which added to its power. It spent much more time over the area around New York City because its path brought it in roughly perpendicular to the eastern coast of the United States and it was only moving west at about 13 mph when it hit land.

The best maps and the best efforts at prediction will sometimes be visited by a "black swan" event. A black swan is an event that over a long stretch of history has never been seen until, finally, someone sees it. That it occurs is nobody's fault. The only possible preparation for such an event lies in the general kinds of operations that are intended to provide overall resilience to a system. In Master Sun's Art of War, one of the preparations he made for the defense of his country was to cache food and military supplies at well distributed hidden points within his own territory so that in the event of an invasion his army might always find emergency supplies readily at hand.

Rigid top-down control is subject to failure when unforeseen circumstances prevent execution of the leader's plan. Lt. General Paul von Riper gives the example of a military officer who orders a contingent of his troops to take over a hill,  establish heavy weapon positions at its summit and await orders. When the officer in command is informed of approaching enemy forces he radios those atop the hill to direct mortar fire on the enemy. At this point he learns that from the top of that hill, due to high trees and substantial undergrowth, it is impossible to see the road. That kind of hitch is why General von Riper instructs officers under his command to tell their subordinates what their planned actions are intended to accomplish. In the just-mentioned example, the squad leader, upon ascending the hill and realizing that the road cannot be seen from there, will on his own initiative find a more suitable hill and establish his weapon position where it can accomplish the intended result.  When he sees the approaching enemy troops he does not need to wait for a superior's command to begin firing because he has already been ordered to do so. If something tipped them off to there being an ultra- high-value intelligence target in the enemy convoy, then that black swan could be met with a greatly revised plan of action designed to capture the intelligence target as its primary goal and make interdiction of the enemy column a secondary objective.

Further readings:

The book The Improbability Principle by David J. Hand, is introduced in a brief article in the Science News Magazine for 17 May 2014, p. 33. (See also, www.sciencenews.org)

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This page was last revised on 17 August 2016