Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Hmm, now that IS interesting. Let’s keep that to ourselves.

I have written elsewhere about my admiration for the relative openness of the US military in its approach to lessons learned from operations and training.[1]  Where the British instinct has always been to keep things under wraps, the American bias is traditionally towards greater transparency.

Sadly, this article in the Marine Corps Times, reveals that things are changing.  Whereas I would love to report that the British Army has decided to publish more, unfortunately the US Marine Corps Centre for Lessons Learned (MCCLL) is going the other way.

Whilst the detailed contents of its lessons have always been classified, MCCLL used to publish an unclassified summary every month, which enabled some degree of civilian scrutiny, education, accountability and debate.  Academics, journalists, defence contractors or knowledge management (KM) consultants could keep up to debate on how the US Marine Corps was, or was not learning lessons.

Knowing how much to share and how much to keep hidden is a judgement call facing all organisations.  Making everything secret is self-defeating and prevents one’s own employees from benefiting from learning from other’s experiences.  However, sharing everything ‘warts and all’ is not without its adverse consequences either, not least for an organisation’s short-term reputation.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I err on the side of greater openness, which means more honesty, more self-criticism, more transparency and a willingness to entertain ideas and innovations from ‘outside the box’.  Whilst some lessons should be considered sensitive, and access to them limited, these should be the exception, not the norm.

Unfortunately, MCCLL decided that re-writing lessons to ‘de-classified’ status took too long.  Let’s hope that they change their mind soon.

To chat about lessons learned - military, commercial or indeed from anywhere - contact me direct or please visit the Knoco website.

[1] “Furthermore, the traditional British predilection for over-classifying official documentation impedes both the internal sharing of knowledge hard-won on operations and its critical analysis by outsiders who, however unwelcome, may nevertheless provide valuable insights.  To make the point, you can buy the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual from Amazon whereas tracking down its British equivalent requires agility, cunning and tenacity.  It’s not the enemy’s efforts that are most frustrated by such constraints.” ‘Learning Lessons – the British Army’s Experience’, Rupert Lescott, Page 11, downloaded from on 3 June 2015

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