Wisdom of General Paul van Riper, USMC

Major points for:

Part 1: A Conversation with Paul van Riper (Self-Organizing Groups)

A. Being in command and out of control, i.e., not hands-on  with everything that subordinates do. This lesson is the same one that the 法家 fǎ jiā  or Legalists learned the hard way in ancient China, that the emperor cannot control everything, that initiative must be taken at lower levels because the emperor can't decide everything and even important single choices often must be made immediately or almost immediately.

B. Be in command but let the subordinates self-organize. Key decisions made at the periphery will be better in the aggregate than a decision made at the top. The top sets goals, but the bottom tries lots of things and works out, laterally, the best way to do things.

C. Distinguish between
    (1) so-called tame problems — problems that one is familiar with and for which you have an internal model that lets you deal with it in an effective way. Example: A practoced driver has no need to analyze ordinary on-road interactions. Under ordinary conditions, it's all been learned before.

    (2) so-called wicked problems —problems that don't fit with old models. Don't try to solve the problem before you know what the problem is. Decide first whether this is a novel situation or not.  Maybe Iyou will need to watch for a while and determine what its key salient factors are.

D. Interactively complex systems have great freedom of action among parts. You can't mathematically compute outcomes beyond a step or two (e.g., sock one guy in a crowd after a football game).  What you may be able to do is to prepare for the general ways a situation may develop in advance, and be ready to activate a general plan depending on the emerging conditions.


As a captain in the Marines. Paul van Riper was assigned to protect an airport that was regularly attacked by rocket fire. He had command of 200 Marines. Hee assembled the lieutenants in the company, anintelligence officer from the battalion, an artillery forward observer, a forward air controller, a pilot, and discussed the problem several days. He rejected no ideas, including one person who observed that, "It would be nice if we had daylight 24 hours a day,"  because they had discovered that rockets were only fired during times of reduced visibility-- night time, no moonlight, etc. Total illumination for all hours of darkness was beyond their capabilities. Examining land on the periphery of the airfield they discovered that certain areas were flat and dry, and were suitable for setting up and firing rockets. Other areas could be ignored. One member of the team had access to astronomical data (moonrise, moonset, sunrise, sunset, etc.), so they had reduced the problem to lighting specific areas at specific times.  Then they considered the means of illumination available to them, e.g., aircraft dropping flares, artillery firing illumination rounds, etc. A further possibility was randomly shelling areas where the enemy might be setting up in a position that hadn't been illuninated, ambushes, etc. The airfield was successfully protected against further rocket attacks. (Some of this information was conveyed in another video that is currently not available on-line.)

Notes by Abhilash Namblar found with the Youtube posting:

Who shapes Paul's thinking and inspires his work?

Col John Boyd (deceased)
BG Shimon Naveh
Gen Tony Zinni
Lt Gen Jim Mattis
MG David Fastabend
Dr. Andrew Ilachinski
Dr. Gary Klein
Dr. Williamson Murray