The Ingenuity Gap: Officer Management for the 21st Century

This program is no longer active.

The project examined the current officer management system and proposed changing the basis of eligibility for promotion from time to competencies in order to better meet the demands of the future operating environment.

The fundamental nature of war remains unchanged, and there is much that the U.S. military confronts that is not unique in its history. Our country has seen, however, a definite shift in the challenges it faces on the battlefield. During the last two decades the U.S. military has engaged in a dizzying array of missions: from largely conventional battles in Operation Desert Storm, to humanitarian assistance missions in Haiti, to support civil authorities during Hurricane Katrina, to countering pirates off the coast of Africa. Today the U.S. military is engaged in complex, simultaneous operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa; the missions are part counterterrorism, part counterinsurgency, and part stability and support activities.

If the United States expects its military officers to continue to excel, the future demands new approaches. The uncertainty, asymmetry, and complexity of military operations are not new, but the degree to which each of these features will dominate the future strategic, operational, and tactical environments is. This reality is due to the fact that the underlying trends are accelerating at unprecedented rates and show no sign of slowing. Thus, the hard problems of the past are becoming ever harder, the possibility for surprise is increasing, and we face, as one commentator recently observed, “an avalanche of ceaseless change.”

This study identifies two specific implications of the future operating environment for the demands on U.S. officers. First, the responsibilities of junior officers will continue to expand beyond the bounds of their traditional foundational skill sets. Second, officers at all ranks will increasingly confront wicked or ill-structured problems, confounded by incomplete information and with such a vast array of implications that traditional decisionmaking models will no longer apply. But beyond these particular concerns lies a more fundamental issue: the growing divergence between an increasingly dynamic future and an officer management system optimized for static conditions. It portends an instance of what futurist Thomas Homer-Dixon, writing about the challenges facing humanity such as meeting long-term energy needs, has termed the “ingenuity gap,” the growing gulf between the need for increasingly creative, new ideas and their likely supply.