The System of Options

The System of Options:

(Click for Audio Version) As is often the case, I began researching a thought for my morning blog based on some early morning musings and devotion. It was nothing specific that came from a scriptural thought, but a buzzing in my brain about who our own worst enemy is. It’s difficult to simply state who it is without considering all the parameters of the situation and determining with factual understanding who the enemy might be. So, I began researching this thought.

Only, it took me into identifying people, places, cultures, habits, failures, successes, and generational views of times and events. Things, perhaps, that I have never before considered. And, as the case is often made for our decision making skills, I began taking the less traveled road, like Robert Frost, and let the results make all the difference for my posting.

Unknowingly, we engage the enemy of our productivity, comfortable life, successful relationship, or even our best career move. Unknowingly, I say, because often the enemy of our position in life is none other than our own selves. If you know this to be the true truth, then you probably know the biggest hurdle to overcome is self. In any engagement or plan.

It’s not others that you battle, it’s yourself!

So. Take an older quote and twist it into modern and personal use, and make it say something to your audience…and self… and allow it to be a new way of considering an older fact. Where did this idea come from? Well, history is replete with examples of how we are often our own worst enemy. We know this statement and have heard it from time to time.

“We have met the enemy, and it is us.” 

Where did this come from? Well, on September 10, 1813, after defeating the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie, Oliver Hazard Perry, commander of the American fleet, dispatched one of the most famous messages in military history to Major General William Henry Harrison. It read:

“Dear Gen’l: We have met the enemy, and they are ours, two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem. H. Perry.”

In 1970, cartoonist Walt Kelly famously paraphrased the statement as, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”. This was in an Earth Day poster that featured characters from his long-running strip Pogo and mourned the sad state of the environment. Goodness! I was only 15 years old and I’m sure I had ever considered Perry’s statement before being modified to fit the present, but I have heard the more modern view of the statement. Over and again, hundreds of times!

Most of us accept the truth of the paraphrase and forget the original statement from Perry. Why? It’s modern. It fits our current view, and we, if anything, seldom study history well enough to remember the great struggles of our forefathers – whether they be here, or in the “old country.”

Do we have a worst enemy? Is it our own selves? Probably.

But this concept is true for many modern statements we know and accept as truth today. Consider this one that has been attributed to many military leaders: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Varied names over the past 150 years have stated this mantra, but in reality it goes all the way back to the 1800’s and comes from a particular general who spent a life time learning leadership…

Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (26 October 1800 – 24 April 1891) was Chief of Staff of the Prussian General Staff from 1857 to 1871 and then of the Great General Staff (GGS) from 1871 to 1888. He was an architect of Germany’s Wars of Unification (1864–71). He is often referred to as Moltke the Elder to distinguish him from his nephew, Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke. [Source]

Moltke determined that the modern army of the 1800’s had changed so much, the field of battle so spread and diverse, that major changes were required to be an effective force. A student of all the great wars leading up to his time, he realized how differently warfare had changed. No longer could one exercise detail control over the entire army. Rather, officers needed to be developed to become an independent force in their respective areas of control instead of waiting for orders from the rear.

“He accomplished this by means of directives stating his intentions, rather than detailed orders, and he was willing to accept deviations from a directive provided that it was within the general framework of the mission.” [Source]

In other words, according to Moltke’s main thesis, “…military strategy had to be understood as a system of options since it was only possible to plan the beginning of a military operation. As a result, he considered the main task of military leaders to consist in the extensive preparation of all possible outcomes. His thesis can be summed up by two statements, one famous and one less so, translated into English as

  • “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength” (or “no plan survives contact with the enemy”) and
  • “Strategy is a system of expedients”.[Source]

There are many ways to get to the end, and in the heat of the battle, it is understood that each is responsible for considering all the options available and choosing the best method to victory.

In the war just before my birth (WWII), there was an incredibly complex operation that became known as D-Day. In the planning process of how to win the war, many options were considered. It was General Dwight David Eisenhower who stated, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” This continues the thought of Moltke thesis from earlier where, “he considered the main task of military leaders to consist in the extensive preparation of all possible outcomes”.

Here’s my thought. We need to learn how to get more people involved in the planning portion of our life, and this can include career, retirement, investments…just to name a few. We easily go to the doctor when sick, but with most other things we simply slam the door on possible outcomes and live with the best option we see from our own personal point of view.

Extensive preparation for all possible outcomes. Wow… Can all this planning come from a single mind? Probably not. It takes many personalities, backgrounds, and viewpoints to consider every possible outcome and prepare for its eventuality. Any plan for a possible outcome needs to consider every key word.

Outcomes. Options. Systems. Preparation. Extensive.
Main words to keep in mind as you plan major strategy.

A “system” of options. My IT days taught me about systems, whether they be operating systems, or application systems, or computing systems as a whole. Systems essentially means, “a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.” When we learned “systems” then we understood the “whole” even though we could not be at every juncture and bend of movements that made up the whole.

In fact, we developed extensive processes to recover data, time and effort when something cataclysmic happened. Power failure. bad data, equipment malfunction, or even the dreaded “operator error.” The goal was to process data to an ultimate conclusive end, but missteps along the way, and processes designed to help everyone know what to do next, made for certain success, when failure was an undesired outcome… 

Though I’ve learned this concept of systematic control and recovery, it is hard to let loose of the myriad of details and decisions required to keep moving forward….

When spending time with my bride to assemble a puzzle, we know there are many ways of tackling the problems and getting to the desired result. You never get to the end successfully without all the pieces being in their proper place. Right? If you have never assembled a 1,000 piece puzzle and you dump it out on your table, you better be prepared to develop a system, or you will struggle with success. Pictured here is one of our many successes that is glued so it will stay together forever!

What are the steps we took for success?

  1. Turn all the pieces face up.
  2. Spread the pieces out so that they are not piled on top of each other.
  3. Determine where you want the top to be, and make sure all the other pieces get arranged in such a way that the top stays in focus.
  4. Start moving all straight edge pieces to the outside because they will make up the four edges.
  5. Look for the corner piece, consider the color scheme, and start looking for the other edges that are similar in design as the picture on the box.
  6. Start moving similar looking colors and designs to the same area so it is easier to match them up.
  7. Attempt to keep the assembled pieces in the area of the puzzle where it looks like they belong.
  8. Rotate your position around the table and look at the puzzle from different angles.
  9. Remember what you have worked on, and continue looking for pieces that may match another zone of the puzzle.
  10. Let someone else enjoy the success of putting pieces together instead of hogging the puzzle table to yourself!
  11. Do not hide a piece so you can be the last one to put the piece into the assembled product… This will get you into trouble… Every single time!

Without a system, or options, to address the issue differently, we often get bogged down in attempting the same thing over and over and getting the same results, and wondering why…

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~Albert Einstein [Source]

I want to have good results in my life. So I plan for as many outcomes as I can grasp, knowing that in the heat of the battle…well, let’s just say, I want to be ready.

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