The Quartermaster, Monday, 21 October

Briefing the Operations Order for marketing strategists

TRANSLATING A MARTIAL MODEL: AN AAR (This week’s report is a 7 minute read)

BLUF: Colin and I briefed a few Green Beret planning methodologies to advertising & marketing strategists at 4As StratFest 2019 last week. Translating brand-new military planning and communicating concepts to civilians is a balancing act - but Colin and I pulled it off and want to bring you into our AAR. See below for 2 improves and 1 sustain, and consider how you’d communicate what you’ve seen in this newsletter to someone who’s never seen it themselves before. 

Brady here. This past week Colin Nagy (of WITI Newsletter fame) and I led a workshop at 4As StratFest 2019 in New York City entitled, “How to Brief and Plan for Uncertainty: Lessons Creative Leaders Can Learn from Green Berets.” It’s a topic he and I have been talking about for a long time, but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to put it across in a more formal setting. Our Idea was to explain how an Operations Order, and a couple follow-on practices (Backbrief, Rehearsal, FRAGO and AAR), could make the creative briefing process a lot more effective. And to be fair, Nick Parish first came up with this connection years ago when he was at Contagious.

Putting together our talk, I was struck with a once-familiar feeling. I was taking things I’m professionally familiar with (like The Operations Order, Commander’s Intent, Backbriefing, Rehearsals, and the After Action Review), and trying to put them into terms that a group of people who are completely unfamiliar with these concepts could understand quickly. It was familiar because I’d done very similar work as a Detachment Commander getting ready to train soldiers, NCOs and officers of foreign armies in Africa and South Asia. Only this time Colin and I had only 90 minutes in a classroom to get our class to the “crawl stage”, and the topic was a lot different from shooting, moving and communicating on the battlefield. Colin and I did our own After Action Review, and I’d like to share our results with you to see how we’ll improve:

AAR Item 1. Improve Format/Schedule: Guided Exercise

Colin and I took about 20 minutes to introduce ourselves and our topic - it seemed to be a significant departure from most of the other themes at StratFest, so it warranted a bit more of an explanation. Once that was done we got into the Operations Order - which was the core of our discussion (we’d originally considered starting with MDMP but quickly realized that 90 minutes isn’t anywhere near enough time to communicate the value of that process). Once we went through every paragraph (including spending extra time talking about Commander’s Intent) Colin and I gave the class a practice scenario and 15 minutes to draft up what their first Operations Order would look like. Then we asked them for their impressions and questions.

We realized soon after this part of the workshop that 15 minutes isn’t a ton of time to write your first Operations Order - so in the future, if possible, more time should be dedicated to this first draft. Our practice example should have as much detail as possible to allow the students to see where it all fits. Choosing someone from the class to present their first-go would allow everyone to consider common first-mistakes or problem points. We can weave the Backbrief into this process as well so that the audience can see how it works.

AAR Item 2. Improve Content: Addressing a Culture of Accountability and “Where Creative Fits”

Questions and feedback from the audience let us know that when applying the Operations Order to creative briefs, there are a couple of things that need to be addressed. The first is that it seems like the Operations Order presupposes a level of professional accountability not common in today’s private sector settings. The Operations Order asks just about everyone involved to have a stake in success that brings them outside of their individual role - and this would need to be addressed before an Operations Order could fit in day-to-day use. Truthfully this is a cultural aspect that could take a very long time to impress upon people in a way that mirrors what you see in the military - just about everyone in uniform gets Leadership Principle #3 ground into them from day one. There may be a way to at least explain it in advance so that it doesn’t necessarily feel like something’s missing in the workshop, and that’s something we’ll need to work through. 

The other content question was around where creative concepts or ideas can be communicated. To some audience members the Operations Order seemed like a great format for putting across a lot of information and guiding a set of tasks, but didn’t seem to leave wiggle room for new, creative things. Format-wise the answer is simple - if you have additional information that provides more detail to what’s in the Operations Order, you can put it in an annex or appendix. Content-wise the answer is less clear: successful creative briefs get creators to make something really impactful, that reach a lot of people via media and motivate them to act, and today a premium is paid for concepts that stand out from the rest. How do you manage a business process that doesn’t stifle a really unique idea? Colin and I need to research a good explanation (but in the back of my mind I’m thinking there might be a fantastic answer in the Skunk Works story).

AAR Item 3. Sustain: Audience Engagement

Our audience of about 50 strategists was really engaged. It’s a great feeling to have spent a lot of time writing and preparing for an event like this and seeing people taking written notes, raising their hands, and seeking to clarify what we’re saying. I think that if it were only me briefing, this wouldn’t have been the case. Colin’s deep expertise in agency-side strategy helped me relate a lot of my own military expertise to the crowd - which I guess you could say is a skill you get from a really good interpreter. I think what also might have helped was us keeping the word-slides to a minimum - with images of Green Berets teaching around the world as a backdrop for what we were putting across. I’d like to keep engagement up in the future - even if it means adopting a Socratic method at times to keep our audience involved. 

Colin and I had a great time and had good feedback from our StratFest workshop audience. As regular readers of this newsletter know, there’s a lot to connect from the Green Beret realm into that of business - the challenge is in taking a small bite of that and communicating it to a group of people who’ve never considered it before. If anyone in our audience is reading and would like to add to our AAR comments, please let me know at Additionally, if anyone would like to get a similar workshop at their own organization, we’d be happy to talk. (BJM)


HARD THINKING: Future of US Special Forces and the great power competition (20 min) “Unrivaled success can sow the seeds of its own demise. When competitors cannot keep up, they seek to change the rules of the game.” Retired Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo found a similar situation facing US forces, in which adversaries sought new ways to challenge American power after Desert Storm. “Our adversaries did what any good adversary would do,” he said. “They searched for our weaknesses, and invested heavily in asymmetric techniques, hybrid warfare. It’s an ability to get right to the heart of a nation’s power, its people. And arguably, our adversaries are doing this better than we are.” (BJM)

WORKING BETTER, DESPITE “COLLABORATION”: Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive (15 min) “According to the Harvard Business Review article “Collaborative Overload”, the time employees spend on collaboration has increased by 50% over the past two decades. Researchers found it was not uncommon for workers to spend a full 80% of their workdays communicating with colleagues in the form of email (on which workers’ spend an average of six hours a day); meetings (which fill up 15 percent of a company’s time, on average); and more recently instant messaging apps (the average Slack user sends an average of 200 messages a day, though 1,000-message power users are “not the exception”). This trend toward near-constant communication means that the average knowledge worker must organize their workday around multiple meetings, with the time in between spent doing their work half-distractedly with one eye on email and Slack.” (BJM)

RECONSIDERING FADS: Online Influencers Tell You What to Buy, Advertisers Wonder Who’s Listening (10 min) “What began as friends and family sharing their favorite products has become a lucrative advertising industry of celebrity endorsers, influencers and meme creators. Such paid endorsements, known as sponsored content, are the online equivalent of a 30-second TV spot. Big-name stars can command $100,000 or more for a single YouTube video or Instagram photo. But a whiff of deceit now taints the influencer marketplace. Influencers have strained ties with advertisers by inflating the number of their followers, sometimes buying fake ones by the thousands. They also have damaged their credibility with real-life followers by promoting products they don’t use. “All these paid posts make you question whether influencers are genuine or just doing it for the money,” said JaLynn Evans, a 19-year-old student at Virginia Commonwealth University.” (BJM)

Remarks Complete. Nothing Follows.

KS Anthony (KSA) & Brady Moore (BJM)

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