Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Millennium Challenge 2002 and Design Thinking

My favorite part of Malcolm Gladwell's blink is the story of Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper and the Millennium Challenge.

NOVA's "Battle Plan Under Fire" which "probes the rapidly evolving science of war" describes the scenario:

" In Millennium Challenge 2002, a $250 million war game designed to test the new technologies and concepts of transformation and network-centric warfare—in which U.S. forces are data-linked with one another as never before—Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, former president of the Marine Corps University, was asked to command the "enemy" forces. In the first days of that mock battle, he used unconventional methods, including a preemptive attack that featured air-, sea-, and ground-launched cruise missiles to sink 16 American ships."

Gladwell sees this as a triumph of instinctual 'blink' thinking. As he described it to ESPN2:

"The team playing the U.S. had all kinds of computer programs and decision-making systems, and experts on every conceivable problem. But when the war started, Van Riper hit them with so many unexpected plays so quickly that he forced them out of that kind of conscious, deliberate decision-making mode -- and forced them to rely on their instincts. And they weren't prepared for that."

Another way of thinking of it: a triumph of nimble design thinking (quick attacks as simple prototypes; unconventional methods as entrepeneurship; playing to his strengths as empathy) over a traditional data-driven corporate bureaucracy.

So, the 16 lost ships were refloated, Von Riper was told not to try that sh*t again, and the wargame was restarted. Guess who 'won' this time (and skip down to the Q&A for remarks about Van Riper)?


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