Control- the military way

When my learning from military was restricted to a measly General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” or Field Marshal Helmuth Graf von Moltke’s “No plan survives contact with the enemy”, a recent post at infoq went a good way in enriching me.

The infoq posit on “Command and control military gets Agile” talks about how “The military is suddenly taking Agility (big “A”) very seriously”.  It points to a fine resource of Department of Defense Command and Control research program DoD C2 (C2 stands for Command and Control) and a precis on Agility Imperative.

That seemed, at least to me, contradictory. I understood ‘command and control’ very much the same way as Joel Spolsky once wrote – “Primarily, the idea is that people do what you tell them to do, and if they don’t, you yell at them until they do…. No room for questions, opinions, thoughts, big picture, context. Just blind subservience. Agree though that my learning of military comes from rented DVDs of war movies.

That led me to question : ‘What exactly is this ‘command and control’?

I was in luck as this very site has a 255 page paper – ‘Understanding command and control‘.

And sure it seems to have a different meaning of command and control. (The paper even uses a special font for the word ‘command and control’ to stress the difference). Few extracts are like this:

– Command and Control determines the bounds within which behavior(s) are to take place, not the specific behaviors themselves. The degrees of freedom associated with these bounds can vary greatly.
– It is important to always keep in mind that there are many different approaches to accomplishing these functions. No specific approach or set of approaches defines what Command and Control means.

And then:
Successfully accomplishing the functions of Command and Control does not necessarily require: • Hierarchical organizations • Explicit control

It goes on to say:
While the determination of intent and its communication to mission participants are traditionally thought of as responsibilities of the one who is in charge or in command, this does not have to be the case…There are numerous instances where there is no supreme or higher authority that can, in practice, determine intent. What is important is that the behaviors of the entities involved (individuals, organizations, and systems) act as if they are working toward some common purpose. Thus, intent may or may not be (1) explicitly communicated, (2) consciously or formally accepted, or (3) widely shared.

I understand that in this command and control – you don’t bark orders (I need to return those DVDs) but draw boundaries within which you are free to choose your behavior towards the best interest of the group or organization. The boundaries can come from framework (think Scrum), roadmap, goals , vision and/or culture.

Another paper “Agility, Focus, and Convergence: The Future of Command and Control” focuses on the need to change the term command and control as it is liable to convey a wrong message. The authors say : Focus & Convergence is the term that I have chosen to replace Command and Control.

In old view, it’s the control part usually being held for the stigma.

There are enough evidences in behavioral science on how control affects behavior and is linked to, say, performance or even life span. A group with a control button to reduce ambient noise performs much better without the control button; it doesn’t matter if the first group never used the button (I can’t remember the source. Dan Ariely?). It is the sense of control rather than usage of control that makes them perform better.

Leonard Mlodinow writes in his ‘The Drunkard’s Walk’ about control:
“Our desire to control events is not without purpose, for a sense of personal control is integral to our self-concept and sense of self-esteem.”

Further down the pages, Mlodinow tells how psychologist Ellen Langer, one of pioneers of psychology of control, studied the effect of the feeling of control on elderly nursing home patients. One group was given control on their room arrangement and which plants to care. Other was not. Eighteen months later a follow-up study shocked researchers: the group that was not given control experienced a death rate of 30 percent, whereas the group that was given control experienced a death rate of only 15 percent.

Still many business houses and management functions considers Control, even to the lowest level, as an essential form of management.