Tag: Marines

My last post discussed Warfighting, the US Marine Corp manual that characterizes combat as disorderly, uncertain, fluid and plagued by friction that makes “the simple difficult and the difficult seemingly impossible.” This post focuses on resource allocation in turbulence, specifically how an officer with limited troops, ammunition, and attention can commit the resources under his control to achieve the greatest impact.

Allocating scarce resources entails difficult trade-offs even in stable circumstances. But Marines face the added complications of a situation in flux, acute time pressure, incomplete and often conflicting data, an enemy attempting to anticipate and thwart their plans, all with life and death at stake. Warfighting outlines principles that help Marine officers allocate resources in real time, without resorting to the fiction that they can predict how battle will unfold.  Below is my synthesis of the Marine Corps’s principles as they relate to resource allocation in turbulence:

Plunge in without overplanning. Officers can plot strategy in the map room, but battles are won or lost in the field. Marine Corps officers plan, of course, but they also recognize the limitations of their plans. Not even the best informed or most experienced officer, can foresee how an engagement will unfold. Rather than spend endless hours honing the perfect plan, Marines develop a good enough plan. Many follow the 70 percent solution— if they have 70 percent of the information, do 70 percent of the analysis, and feel 70 percent

Few institutions face greater turbulence than the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines’ missions include not only combat but also evacuations, humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, and counter-terrorism in some of the most unsettled spots on earth. The end of the Cold War made the world more turbulent for the Marines, which deployed every five weeks on average during the 1990s, a threefold increase in deployment frequency.

When General Alfred M. Gray became Commandant of the US Marine Corps in 1987, he began a series of far-reaching changes to the Marines. Gray had served in Vietnam, a war in which the Marines’ deaths exceeded the Corps’ combined fatalities in in seventeen of the eighteen

My recent posts have all dealt with organizational agility. The US Marine Corps is one of the most agile organizations around, and over the years I have learned a great deal in discussions with former Marines who bring their point of view to business. One of these is John Brown, who studied history at Harvard, served as an officer in the  Marine Corps, helped the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security develop a platform to share data across agencies, and co-founded tech start-up Verical. John kindly agreed to share some of his thoughts on leadership, strategy, and agility in turbulent markets. John’s thoughts follow:

“Some of the most admired leaders in business have failed spectacularly to adapt to the growing complexity of today’s turbulent market – some for firm-specific reasons, but many

Leading in turbulent times

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

Don Sull is professor of management practice in strategic and international management, and faculty director of executive education at London Business School. This blog is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs, managers, and outside directors to lead more effectively in a turbulent world.

Over the past decade, Prof Sull has studied volatile industries including telecommunications, airlines, fast fashion, and information technology, as well as turbulent countries including Brazil and China, and found specific behaviours that consistently differentiate more, and less, successful firms. His conclusion is that actions, not an individual’s traits, increase the odds of success in turbulent markets, and these actions can be learned.

Don Sull’s blog: a guide

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Managing in an Unpredictable World
A series of video lectures by Professor Don Sull

Part 1: Fog of the future
Part 2: Future reconnaissance
Part 3: The strategic agility loop
Part 4: Executing with commitments
Part 5: Leading into the fog

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