Saturday, January 19, 2008

Why is change important?

For this, history provides a good clue.

Perhaps the goal and reason to change is required first, before change is effective. Needless to say a certain amount of self awareness, divine intervention, or something needs to happen for people to choose to change and reach something new. This is why doing nothing is a choice and it gets you to the goal of nothing.

Sure, changing for the sake of changing could just be a neurosis of it's own. I'm not sure which one that would be, but it boils down to some bizarre kind of control. But there needs to be a reason that gets us to where we want to go. There are times when change is not required. And times when not doing anything is the right thing to do.

The danger though with doing nothing is that you are probably just being lazy and not taking the time to look around you and ask what is working and what isn't. Worse yet, you value something else in your life that prevents you from changing. Sometimes the early warning signs are all around us, but we choose to ignore them. None of us are free from needing to observe what is changing around us, and start asking questions.

For our historical illustration, I present Douglas Haig. Born June 19 1861, born into a good (read rich) family and became 'Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig' of the British Empire. A top leader, commanded thousands, and as all accounts seem to go, a total idiot. The quotes you can find are priceless: 'as shy as a shool-girl, and as stupid as well'.

I pick on this guy because I seek to understand how I can be a better 'field marshal'. I'm not sure what license that gives me, but I plan to use it. And one of my big questions is the role of intelligence: do field marshals have to be really smart, or are things like self awareness, a controlled ego, the ability to ask for help, and an inquisitive nature just as important?

I guess we'll never know Sir Douglas Haig's IQ score, and it's hard to guess now. I would imagine the wealthy family played a big role in getting him along, but we have to assume he's at least as smart as the average guy. From his diary, and other quotes made by him, we certainly can see how he failed to adapt.

Some quotes from here:

* There is little doubt that Haig was an idiot. In 1926, 10 years after the barbed wire and machine gun defences of the German Army had proven conclusively that the day of the Horse Cavalry was over, Haig wrote "I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse - the well-bred horse - as you have ever done in the past".

* This man ordered hundreds of thousands of troops, his countrymen and 'damned colonials' to attack barbed wire entanglements 40 yards, sometimes 80 yards deep, covered by well placed machine guns in concrete pill-boxes on the high ground and did so without looking at the ground before during or after the battles. He did so time and time again and when confronted with the casualty lists merely said, "The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists".

* "Success in battle depends mainly on morale and determination." Haig - 1907

* "The way to capture machine guns is by grit and determination." Haig - 1915

* "The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men's lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists." Haig June 1916 before the battle of the Somme

I don't think anyone would argue that determination is required to 'get it done'. A clear decision to risk your life for your choices requires an all or nothing kind of whole heartedness, and if you're going to battle you better be ready to fight and die. But how bad is it to fail to recognize a change to the 'rules' of war that are changing around you? Forget field marshals being experts at recognizing the changes in the 'game' around you, this is one of those things you have to learn in kindergarten. Failing to adapt is going to hurt.

Not to mention that failing to change, in this case sending thousands to die needlessly and without purpose is mind numbingly and obviously wrong. I'm going to guess it was his ego that was more important that all those lives.

Haig failed perhaps to see that a dead man cannot advance, and that to replace him is only to provide another corpse.
E. K. G. Sixsmith, British Generalship in the Twentieth Century, 1970

Perhaps being right was more important than the lives of others. Very sad.

But then, what is up with the British army leadership? Not only did he do this at the Battle of the Somme, but then he did it *again* later at the Third Battle of the Ypres. I just can't fathom all of that.

4 comments:

Ashraf said...

That reminds me with a commander in chief that came form a good ( rich ) family

Anonymous said...

how did Sir Douglas Haig's change?

Bruce Milne said...

My point is he is an example of someone that *didn't* understand the need to change, and the peril of many live and total failure. His determination wasn't enough. If I could ask him questions, my question would be 'What is a better way to apply determination.' The simple answer for war is to have better weapons, but I think the bigger lesson for us all is that determination must be mixed with self awarness of ourselves to find sucess.

Anonymous said...

That Haig was such short-sighted commander, apparently without any connection to the historical change of war techiques on the battlefield and without any emotional connection to the men he sent to their deaths in hundreds of thousands again and again, only really describes how idiotic war is to begin with.