As the Global War on Terrorism winds down in the minds of American military strategists, the rush to put this chapter of our history behind us without further reflection is palpable. Yet, by turning our focus to more easily understood conflicts, we risk missing the very real lessons of the past 10 years that likely will remain relevant in the coming decades.;
Having awoken from the nightmare of uncertainty and confusion that defined the unconventional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our nation’s strategic planners have retreated reflexively to the intellectually comfortable contemplation of where our forces excel. “Give us defined, similar-looking adversaries, and we will crush anyone who dares challenge us,” they offer. “Let’s assume the future retains the same framework as before, iterate from our existing dominant structure, and we will remain pre-eminent.”
This mindset very well may reflect a counter to “the most dangerous course of action,” but it completely ignores “the most likely course of action” in world affairs. The two are related only very infrequently, and a focus on one to the complete exclusion of the other can have catastrophic consequences. It also is a perfect demonstration of how disruptive innovation can upend incumbents, a concept first introduced by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in the late 1990s.
In his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Christensen theorizes how large, successful firms can fail by “doing everything right.” He goes on to describe further how past successes and incredible capabilities can “actually become obstacles in the face of changing markets and technologies.”