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A full replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton stands in the entrance of Google Corporation's headquarters in Mountain View, California. Its jaw is open as it leans forward, stretching 36 feet from tail to nose. It looks every bit the hunter that we know from the movies. As intimidating as the T-Rex is, though, the joke’s on him. Google uses the extinct animal as a reminder that we must “innovate or die.”
This story isn’t entirely fair to the T-Rex. While our society praises innovation, reveres entrepreneurs, and studies innovative companies, there are lots of reasons not to be innovative. For starters, innovation can be dangerous.
The danger is not physical, but political. “Political danger” sounds soft, imaginary even, when compared to physical danger. Yet, as far as what drives human behavior and as far as what we feel, political danger is real. The danger stems from competition over status, or how influential we are in an organization. Competition for status creates winners and losers — there are only so many spots at the top. The more hierarchical an organization, the bigger the difference between winners and losers.
Being at the top feels good, as being at the bottom feels bad. The Greek philosopher Aristotle described humans as “political animals,” though more recent scholarship argues that because humans operate in groups, the pursuit of status is a direct proxy for the pursuit of life’s necessities. In the same way that we are “wired” to pursue food and shelter, we are wired to seek status. The “wiring” is emotional. We feel pleasure in gaining status and pain in losing it.
Innovation that challenges a position of status creates the prospect of emotional pain for the person being removed. An individual proposing a disruptive idea can be a threat to someone in a position of status, creating a reaction to attack rather than embrace. The same dynamic impacts military innovations with one added factor: military innovations entail groups more than individuals.
Military innovations — innovations in warfare — usually involve one group within the military becoming more important than another. Groups can represent a weapons system, favored tactic, or a grand strategy.
For example, as the Air Force transitioned to a focus on nuclear weapons at the start of the Cold War, bomber pilots displaced fighter pilots as more central to the Air Force mission. The same has happened in other services, as when aircraft carriers usurped battleships as the Navy’s primary means of projecting force.
In the Army over the past decade, the innovation of counterinsurgency created a debate over strategy — whether force should be employed primarily to destroy enemy forces or stabilize host societies.
Each of the above changes in warfighting meant that one group had to make room for another.
In the same way that we are “wired” to seek status, we are also wired to defend the groups to which we belong. Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Righteous Mind,” has shown that loyalty to a group is one of the foundations of human moral reasoning. The mind is “innately tribal,” designed to “enjoy doing the sorts of things that lead to group cohesion and success in conflicts between groups.”
According to Haidt, “the love of loyal teammates is matched by a corresponding hatred of traitors.” Just as supporting the groups we belong to feels right, so does opposing groups of outsiders. This feeling can range from trivial and fun, like cheering for a local sports team, to solemn and lethal, as in fighting for your country.
Groups in the military can take many forms: the service you belong to, a specialty within that Service, or the teammates you work with. The feeling of supporting the group can be the difference between saying “yes” or “no” to a new way of fighting. A change that challenges your group would feel inherently wrong, while the opposite would feel inherently right. This is what it means for decisions to be “political” — an innovation is right or wrong based on which group it benefits, not its mission impact.
Group loyalty and desire for status is why military innovation is so hard. More than 500 years ago in “The Prince,” political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli described the essential challenge of innovation. He wrote,
It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to manage, or more doubtful of success, or more dangerous to handle than to take the lead in introducing a new order of things. For the innovator has enemies in all those who are doing well under the old order, and he has only lukewarm defenders in all those who would do well under the new order. This lukewarmness arises partly from the incredulity of men who do not truly believe in new things until they have had a solid experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever his enemies have the opportunity to attack the innovator, they do so with the zeal of partisans, and the others only defend him tepidly, so that he, together with them, is put in danger.
Machiavelli’s warning may be dark, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Machiavelli bases his warning on the “partisan’s” emotional wiring, implying that the wiring is set in stone. He’s only partly right.
Our wiring is natural but not automated. We may have a natural drive for status and group loyalty, but what triggers the drive for status and group loyalty is subject to change. We can make innovation more likely by conferring status based on experimenting with new ideas, and by thinking of our group as everyone on the military team, not just one service or career field. Innovation can come from understanding what drives our behavior.
Editor's Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
In the wake of a heartwarming viral video that was featured everywhere from Good Morning America to the Daily Mail comes a disheartening revelation: The 84-year-old self-described Army nurse cranking out push-ups in her crisp Vietnam-era uniform might not be who she said she was.
Maggie DeSanti, allegedly a retired Army lieutenant colonel who rappeled out of helicopters in Vietnam, was captured in a video challenging a TSA agent to a push-up competition ahead of a flight to Washington, D.C., with the Arizona chapter of the organization Honor Flight on Oct. 16. The video soon was everywhere, and many who shared it, including Honor Flight, hailed DeSanti's toughness and spirit.
‘Nice girls don't join the military': New commander of Air Force refueling squadron proves her critics wrong
The summer before sixth grade, Cindy Dawson went to an air show with her father and was enamored by the flight maneuvers the pilots performed.
"I just thought that would be the coolest thing that anybody could ever do," she said, especially having already heard stories about her grandfather flying bombers during World War II with the Army Air Corps.
So by the first day of school, she had already decided what she wanted to be when she grew up.
We salute the 93-year-old WWII veteran who refuses to retire, and opened up a 'boozy bakery' instead
Peach schnapps, sex on the beach, and piña colada may be familiar drinks to anyone who's spent an afternoon (or a whole day) getting plastered on an ocean-side boardwalk, but they're also specialty desserts at Ray's Boozy Cupcakes, Etc, a bakery in Voorhees, New Jersey run by a 93-year-old World War II veteran named Ray Boutwell.
A former senior Coast Guard official has been accused of shoplifting from a Philadelphia sex shop.
Rear Adm. Francis "Stash" Pelkowski (Ret.) was accused of stealing a tester item from Kink Shoppe on Oct. 8, according to an Instagram post by the store that appeared online two days later. In the post, which included apparent security camera footage of the incident, a man can be seen looking at products on a counter before picking up an item and placing it in his pocket before turning and walking away.
The Instagram post identified the man as Pelkowski, and said it wished him "all the best in his retirement, a sincere thank you for your service, and extreme and utter disappointment in his personal morals."
SAN DIEGO —The Marines say changes in the way they train recruits and their notoriously hard-nosed drill instructors have led to fewer incidents of drill instructor misconduct, officials told the Union-Tribune.
Their statement about training followed an Oct. 5 Washington Post report revealing that more than 20 Marines at the San Diego boot camp have been disciplined for misconduct since 2017, including cases of physical attacks and racist and homophobic slurs. The story also was published in the Union-Tribune.