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Innovating in New Operating Domains Begins Not in the Pragmatic and Known, but the Fantastic and Weird


Innovative acts are cognitive leaps in conceptualising fantastic and weird ideas so that opportunities are made available via novel and previously unimagined or ignored ways. Acts of innovation change the system. A successful experimentation involving novelty creates systemic transformation where competitors now must operate in the emergent system that the innovation ushered into reality. In this second paper in a four-part series, we discuss innovation through the lens of military forces and war paradigms to understand how militaries are mostly inhibitive of innovation, especially in new warfighting domains. Traditional mechanistic thinking for militaries seems to inhibit innovation in areas of entirely unfamiliar or emerging war contexts that depart from legacy frames. These include cyberspace, cislunar space, artificial intelligence at the general or advanced levels of development, quantum or other exotic technology, and multi-domain conflicts where different belief systems (social paradigms) on war are used by different stakeholders. Generally, convergent thinking is promoted by military organisations at the expense of seriously entertaining transformative and disruptive ideas. We tend to shun innovative risk, preferring a slower and more painful process of adaptation in complex war. New ideas are only useful if they reinforce our current belief system, and reinforce our legacy system of established rituals, doctrines and institutionalised behaviours.

1. Introduction

Militaries call for innovation more now than perhaps in previous generations, if only due to the increasingly complex social reality that modernity now features for conflicts. The call for innovation is due to the many overlapping efforts of disciplines studying how humans create, think and reflect on how they engage with a complex reality. However, many military experts might refute such an assumption, insisting ‘war has always been complex’. This is true, if we remain contextually centred on what people within that period knew as social reality. War has always been historically complex, and arguably chaotic in that organised violence remains the most volatile, dynamic, dangerous and destructive context that humans place themselves into. Wars in the antiquities, feudal ages, in western and eastern configurations, into the Napoleonic Era and European, Westphalian state-on-state conflict are all in their own context extraordinarily complex for those leaders attempting to fight and defeat enemies. Yet for most of human history, warfare has oriented around the regulation, standardisation, uniformity and predictive attempts of control, whether in strategic aims or tactical execution of organised violence. We desire prediction, control and some certitude where organised violence results in our goals that must manifest in a shared social reality. Both we and our enemies are necessary collaborators on how conflicts unfold and resolve, and whether an innovative activity succeeds in changing the conditions for who gains advantage over whom.

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