Professional Readings

Reading #141

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  • Monday, May 1, 2017

What the Past Teaches about the Future

  • By: Max Boot
  • Published: Issue 44, 1st quarter 2007, Go to Subsection RECALL, page 109
  • Read "Who Moved My Cheese" article here.

Acting Director Major General Robert “Bo” Dyess’ Comments:


Innovation is critical for both the operational and institutional Army to ensure that our Soldiers, leaders, and teams are prepared to win in future armed conflict. Innovation challenges us to anticipate changing conditions to ensure that Army forces are manned, trained and equipped to overmatch enemies in order to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Additionally, innovation drives the development of new tools or methods that permit Army forces to anticipate future demands and stay ahead of determined enemies. In their conclusion to the book, The Dynamics of Military Revolution: 1300-2050, Williamson Murray and McGregor Knox identified the following four characteristics of successful military innovation:

  1. Innovation does not come from technology alone.
  2. Innovation emerges from evolutionary problem-solving directed at specific operational and tactical issues.
  3. Innovation requires coherent frameworks of doctrine and concepts.
  4. Innovation must be rooted in and limited by strategic givens and continuities in the nature of war.

While not the sole factor in military innovation, integrating emerging technologies and using old technologies in new ways is essential for improving future force combat effectiveness. Because of the ease with which many technological advantages are copied or countered, the Army must pursue multiple technological improvements and anticipate enemy efforts to emulate or disrupt new capabilities.

In this week's professional reading, "What the Past Teaches about the Future," Max Boot asserts that while the U.S. has been dominant in the information age, there is "no guarantee that its streak will continue." He offers that history provides many examples where superpowers failed to take advantage of important technological advancements and suffered sudden, unexpected defeats. He warns, "The longer you are on top, the more natural it seems, and the less thinkable it is that anyone will displace you." He concludes, "Complacency can seep in, especially if, as with the United States, you enjoy power without peer of precedent."

To maintain overmatch against future competitors requires continuous innovation, however, Boot argues that history does not offer a blueprint of how military innovation occurs, as "there is no single model that covers all cases." He suggests that the way to gain military advantage and retain overmatch is not necessarily to be the first to produce a new tool or weapon-it is how to utilize and integrate a widely available tool into all formations. "Innovation must be organizational as much as technological, and it needs to focus on potential threats across the entire spectrum, from low-intensity guerilla wars to high-intensity conventional conflicts."

This week's professional reading reminds us that as new military technologies are more easily transferred, potential threats emulate U.S. military capabilities to counter U.S. power projection and limit U.S. freedom of action. To maintain overmatch in the future operating environment, the Army must continue to innovate by turning ideas into valued outcomes faster than determined and adaptive adversaries. Most importantly, successful innovation requires focused and sustained collaboration among DOD, national research and development communities, industry, academia, and international partners to drive capability development and deliver DOTMLPF-P solutions that permit future forces to defeat determined enemies and accomplish the mission.

As you read the article, consider the impacts on the following Army Warfighting Challenges:
#1 Develop Situational Understanding:

How to develop and sustain a high degree of situational understanding while operating in complex environments against determined, adaptive enemy organizations.

#4 Adapt the Institutional Army and Innovate:

How to improve the rate of innovation to drive capability development and deliver DOTMLPF-P solutions to the warfighter at a pace that meets operational demand within the existing constraints of the acquisition and budgeting processes.

#14 Ensure Interoperability and Operate in Joint, Inter-organizational, Multinational Environment:

How to integrate joint, inter-organizational, and multi-national partner capabilities and campaigns to ensure unity of effort and accomplish missions across the range of military operations.

#15 Conduct Cross-Domain Maneuver:

How Army forces, operating as part of a joint, interorganizational, and multinational force, train, organize, equip, and posture sufficiently to deter or defeat highly capable peer threats in the degraded, contested, lethal, and complex future operational environment.

#20 Develop Capable Formations:

How to design Army formations capable of rapidly deploying and conducting operations for ample duration and in sufficient scale to accomplish the mission.

Continuous feedback, collaboration, and teamwork are keys to the success of the Campaign of Learning and driving innovation in the Army. Please use the Army Warfighting Challenges as the framework to contribute your ideas and recommendations with respect to this topic to improve our ability to innovate as we develop the current and future force.

The Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFC) framework may be accessed here:

For previous weekly readings go to: ARCIC Professional Readings

  1. Army Operating Concept, TRADOC Pam 525-3-1, 30 October 2014
  2. Multi-Domain Battle

All the best,