Métis: Strategic Sense for a Wicked World

By Mindi Furnier, Jason Grant, and Jason Trew
Estimated Time to Read: 26 minutes

Abstract: The U.S. defense community regularly acknowledges changes in the character of modern warfare. These observations are often coupled with a variety of recommendations, such as creating more strategic thinkers and cultivating more agile service cultures. This article highlights the tangled interactions between these two challenges as well as a third: harnessing the power of storytelling. First, stories both reflect and influence an organization’s culture, and are therefore a useful tool for strategic thinkers. Second, when it comes to strategic thinking, the typical descriptions and illustrations used by defense professionals are incomplete and biased. Missing from this list of examples, for instance, is someone from the origins of Western civilization who personified the wisdom to convert “insight into a decisive asymmetry.” This ancient role model not only exemplifies the strategic sense necessary to prepare the joint force’s culture for modern operating environments, but is also closely linked to the third element of this trinity – storytelling.

Stories are not a symptom of culture, culture is a symptom of storytelling.

                                                       – K. E. Weick and L. D. Browning[i]

The quintessential strategy story is of unexpected strength brought against discovered weakness. Not simply the deft wielding of power, but the actual discovery of power in a situation, an insight into a decisive asymmetry.

– Richard P. Rumelt[ii]

The World Is Wicked Once Over

The world is defined by both conflict and complexity. It is wicked, therefore, in two senses of the word. It is both dangerous and disorderly. Military professionals naturally grasp the former. They are increasingly vocal about the latter, as evidenced in the widespread use of the term “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), the tone of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the explicit use of “wicked problems” in official documents.[iii]

Indeed, the realization is spawning changes throughout the Department of Defense (DoD). The services, for instance, are rushing to procure technological systems that create a comprehensive fusion of sensors.[iv] Such systems are designed to make sense of a modern battlefield that is chaotic and complicated. The methodology for crafting the plans that employ those new tools is evolving as well. Perhaps the best example is the revolutionary approach to operational design used in Special Operations Command.[v] Additionally, there has been an urgent call to reinvigorate Professional Military Education (PME). According to the most recent NDS, “PME has stagnated, focused more on the accomplishment of mandatory credit at the expense of lethality and ingenuity.” Likewise, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) issued a draft vision for PME highlighting the need for “intellectual overmatch . . . to defeat competitors in contests we have not yet foreseen.” Both documents describe the range of skills broadly categorized as strategic thinking.[vi]

Thinking strategically is a “lost art,” as noted in one seminal JFQ article.[vii] The loss is an obvious disadvantage in a world that is wicked once over, because volatility, complexity, and ambiguity necessitate the mental skills subsumed in the concept of strategic thinking. In general, strategic thinking is the capacity to think critically, creatively, and collaboratively. It is also the ability to think contextually, meaning between and across systems that are physical, conceptual, or cultural, and across time.[viii] Moreover, all this intellectual activity is directed towards realizing an advantage, whether reactively or proactively, through power or through persuasion, or, more likely, some artful combination of all the above.

Finally, attempts to adapt to a wicked world must be underpinned by a corresponding change in the services’ organizational cultures. Leaders at all levels identify this as the crux of the issue. The “pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems,” to use Edgar Schein’s well-known definition of culture, is a projection of the past onto the future.[ix] What worked in the industrial age must evolve for the information age, including the very premise that organizations can survive by preserving what previously succeeded. There is widespread urgency that the US military must prioritize adaptability over traditional ways of business. An implied task is to encourage strategic thinkers who can shepherd those changes, including cultural changes. Of course, creating a “learning organization” is a wicked puzzle in itself. There is, however, a useful tool for internal change that is often overlooked.

Stories for Strategic Effect

At the heart of organizational culture are stories, and organizational culture is at the heart of how the joint force must evolve. According to Schein, there are three tiers of culture: artifacts, espoused beliefs, and basic underlying assumptions. Stories touch them all. At the most visible level, stories are tangible cultural symbols that are easily shared and remembered. A story can also explicitly communicate an organization’s philosophy, which is the middle level of culture. Finally, at the deepest level, the very invention and staying power of a story confirms that it resonates with the group’s biases. This is why Schein, along with numerous other scholars, identifies storytelling as one of the “embedding mechanisms” of institutional values.[x] Consider an example from ancient Greece. For centuries, Homer’s epics formed part of aristocratic education in the city-state Athens. The Iliad and The Odyssey helped establish and transmit the culture of the Athenian political class, including how to govern, how to fight, and how both settings require leaders to wield stories for strategic effects.[xi] Their ability to persuade the citizens was an increasingly important skill in their nascent democracy, as demonstrated repeatedly in Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian War.[xii]

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The sophists, or “wise men,” tutored young politicians in skills such as rhetoric.

Stories not only establish culture, but have the power to alter that culture as well.[xiii] In other words, changing a culture requires the culture to change its stories. For instance, a young Athenian became dissatisfied with the legacy of Homer, blaming his influence for Athens’s defeat in the Peloponnesian Wars. To encourage others to move past the norms established by the poet, the writer offered his own counter story; a story in which fictitious characters put the poet’s ideas on trial and found the content—the very practice of transmitting ideas through myth—to be harmful to society. The critique largely succeeded, and Homer’s works are now relegated to a literary artifact instead of a source of wisdom. This article attempts to do something similar: to offer a new parable of strategic thinking and, in doing so, influence the culture of the joint force. Like the bold judges of Homer, it is not just the content that needs to evolve, but the structure of culture itself (contrary his detractors, however, this draws inspiration directly from the poet).

To reiterate Schein, culture expects and exploits continuity. What worked well enough in the past is preserved and projected into the future. This approach is premised on stability. To remain relevant and effective in a dynamic environment, an organization must overcome a paradoxical dilemma. Success in a wicked world requires a culture based on continuous change, wherein the conventional approach is to welcome the unconventional. In other words, adaptive organizations embody an overarching expectation that expectations are unreliable. If anyone should be able to address this curse of culture, and leverage inevitable change into opportunities to prevail, it should be strategic thinkers.

Unfortunately, the list of those participating in strategic thinking is overly restricted. The current narrative seems to suggest strategic thinking is simply thinking about strategy. The focus tends to be on strategists, making the act of strategic thinking seem applicable to only those who formally occupy such a position. Alternatively, the focus is on strategic leaders, which again narrows the field to a select few. Additionally, those who are regularly cited as strategic thinkers are the men—gender being another symptom of our narrow view—who wrote strategic theory.

In one sense, all strategists are theorists since strategy should be a “theory for victory.”[xiv] But stories about Carl von Clausewitz, Antoine-Henri Jomini, and Basil Liddell Hart do not cite their performance in a specific field of battle, but rather their philosophy on a specific page in their books. Moreover, their works are actually meta-theories: abstracted from context in order to offer a generic theory that might help others produce a specific idea of success in a given context. To be fair, these so-called “masters of strategy” offered varying degrees of rigidity and genius. Jomini’s gifts are perhaps best demonstrated in how well he packaged tactical prescriptions into a narrative with considerable staying power. On the other end of the spectrum is Clausewitz, whose unfinished On War offers a venerable goldmine for inquisitive minds. He does not offer easy answers, reminding readers his theories are “meant to educate the mind of the future commander . . . to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield.”[xv]Notably, however, it is still focused on the strategic thinking of the singular (male) commander.

There is also an inherent bias in writing strategic theory. It is premised on communicating what is communicable. If the author admits there are matters of importance that resist explanation, the theory is self-knowingly incomplete. Furthermore, like culture, theorizing is premised on some degree of continuity. Some essential elements must remain steady for the ideas to have enduring relevance. Granted, many aspects of warfare have persisted, such as the need to account for the human domain and incomplete information. In a world where change is itself changing, however, many have not—or will not—endure.[xvi]

What is needed then is a story of a strategic thinker who personifies adaptability and operates in a world of tacit awareness, ambiguity, and intuition; a strategic thinker with the capacity to navigate and nudge wicked problems by following a simple formula: do not reply upon simple formulas. Such a cryptic, paradoxical description contradicts strategic theories as well as many aspects of the DoD’s organizational cultures. Indeed, it seems to run counter to the very philosophical foundations of Western civilization. And that is precisely why you have probably never heard her story.

The Goddess of Strategic Intelligence

The author who sought to dethrone Homer as the spokesman of Greek culture is also perhaps the most influential thinker in the story of Western Civilization, Plato. While his ideology has been applied widely, it actually revolved around a narrow paradigm (a term Plato helped popularize, another symptom of his influence).[xvii] He advocated a government by the elite few who could operate within his system of rigorous logic. Consequently, he disparaged democracy, despised poets, and argued violently against any reasoning based on subjectivity, mythology, or intuition. In fact, while anathema to Plato’s beliefs, these qualities are all associated with a type of strategic thinking that was once celebrated in Greek culture, thanks in part to Homer’s influence.[xviii]

Before the philosopher decidedly erased it from the Western canon, Greeks had an ideal of strategic wisdom known as métis (pronounced “ME-tus”): “a way of knowing; it implies a complex but very coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behavior which combine flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness, vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over the years.”[xix] Unlike Plato’s ideals of universal truths and the system of rationality to uncover those truths, this concept embraced a world of ambiguity and subjectivity.

Métis, commonly translated as “cunning intelligence,” accepts that the world is wicked once over. It goes further, however, by transforming paradox, volatility, and complexity into an advantage.[xx] To do so, this style of thinking privileges improvisation, experimentation, and sensitivity to emergent contexts. Akin to how author James Carse describes the very metic figure of the “infinite player,” métis does not prepare against surprise, but is prepared to be surprised; it eschews the power to prevent vulnerability for the strength to prevail regardless of what an opponent may do.[xxi] It does not resort to direct force as a default, either in terms of physical violence or philosophical rigor; instead it plays in the psychological domain in order to find ways to compromise, influence, or simply outwit others.

Greeks imported the word directly from their mythology. The goddess Métis, first wife of Zeus and mother of Athena, exemplified the gift of wisdom and foresight. She displayed her skills on numerous occasions, offering her wise counsel to help her husband overthrow his enemies. In the Greek language, her name became synonymous with strategic intelligence.

The concept of métis is not easily defined in the English language. It is often better described by appealing to our “narrative intelligence:” the innate capacity to make sense of the world through stories.[xxii] Even those of Homer’s age tended to illustrate métis through analogies and anecdotes instead of explicit definition. Stories told amongst the Greeks involved the way an ivy vine opportunistically adapted to local conditions or the way an octopus could hide by changing its shape and color. The creativity of artisans or the social intelligence and persuasiveness of a deft storyteller were oft-cited exemplars. The diversity of these examples highlights the democratic nature of métis as a skill available to both genders, multiple crafts, and even to animal and plant life. Another common demonstration of métis is how ship pilots exercise vigilance and forethought to guide their vessels through currents. This, in fact, includes Homer’s character, the mortal most associated with this style of strategic intelligence, Odysseus. Whether it was the ruse of the Trojan Horse, his persuasive storytelling, or the many trials he faced as he sailed home from war with Persia, Odysseus exemplified the ability to combine passion, intuition, and forethought to create strategic advantage.[xxiii]

Again, after Plato, the stories of The Odyssey became entertainment instead of education. According to the classicists Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Homer’s works served as the “first testimony” of métis. Consequently, Plato’s devaluation of the poet marked the end of concept in the Western canon.[xxiv] It was not resuscitated until Detienne and Vernant published Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society in 1974.

A major western military theorist finally addressed metis in 2013. In his book Strategy, Lawrence Freedman declares “the most powerful dichotomy in all strategic thought was the one first introduced by Homer as the distinction between bia and métis, one seeking victory in the physical domain and the other in the mental, one relying on being strong and the other on being smart, one depending on courage and the other imagination, one facing the enemy directly and the other approaching indirectly.”[xxv] It is hard to find any defense professional that picked up Freedman’s lead in the half decade since.

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The cover of Freedman’s work reinforces the prominence of Homer, his character Odysseus, and the métis the fictional hero embodied.

Examples of Métis in the Military

Apart from the well-known myth of Prometheus, which literally means “pro-métis;” the goddess’s name is rarely recognized today. That does not mean this type of strategic wisdom escaped notice by military historians and practitioners. The tale of the Trojan Horse is one obvious example. The four below further clarify how to recognize métis across a range of domains, times, and challenges. 

Themistocles and the Battle of Salamis. The first example is a man described by Thucydides in very metic terms: “Themistocles was a man who exhibited the most indubitable signs of genius . . . he was at once the best judge in those sudden crises which admit of little or of no deliberation . . . [and] has surpassed all others in the faculty of intuitively meeting an emergency.”[xxvi] As proof, he pointed to the Greco-Persian Wars when a modest Greek navy, led by Themistocles, defeated the superior invading force and reversed the course of the conflict. The Athenian had cleverly baited the Persian commander into the battle by feigning defection from the Peloponnesian Alliance, which he reported to be on the verge of collapse.[xxvii] The Greek fleet, however, was strong. They attacked once the Persian ships were in a position that limited their maneuverability. Furthermore, as the enemy fleet approached, Themistocles mounted an information campaign to encourage Ionian Greeks serving in the Persian navy to undercut the invasion by performing poorly in battle. His intention was not just to encourage defections, but to cultivate a sense of ethnic discord within Persia’s forces. For Themistocles’s clever actions that culminated in the Battle of Salamis, which some suggest is among the most significant engagements in history, his contemporaries gave him the fitting nickname Odysseus.[xxviii]

Air Power in World War II. Métis thrives in conditions of change, treats excitement as a reasonable factor in problem solving, and shrewdly converts weaknesses into strengths. In the era leading up to and during World War II, US Airmen demonstrated all three as they argued passionately that geopolitical turmoil and advancing aviation technology required a revolutionary shift in warfare. In their view, the inability of their domain to match the persistence or widespread destructive capacity of a ground force was offset by air power’s flexibility. The scholar Colin Gray notes this inherent quality creates “ever-growing problems of choice.”[xxix] Airmen, however, took it as an opportunity to experiment with a variety of approaches to aerial warfare. Contrary to the postwar narrative that repeated only one story—strategic bombing—the US Army Air Corps invested in a wide range of air power missions, including close air support, air interdiction, and air superiority.[xxx] Even the supposed intellectual center of the US “bomber mafia,” the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS), dedicated only one-tenth of its courses to long-range bombing. Furthermore, that theory was not universally accepted by the faculty and was often challenged by practitioners.[xxxi] Indeed, the one item of consensus at ACTS seemed to be their very métis-like motto, “We Make Progress Unhindered by Custom.” Lastly, all of the approaches demonstrated qualities of Métis: they were strategically indirect, aspired towards an economy of force, and aimed to influence the enemy’s mind. This does not mean violence was absent. Like the scene in The Iliad when an archer directs his missile to strike Achilles’s one vulnerability, it is force aimed where it could yield the greatest strategic effect.

Becoming a Network to Fight a Network. The next example of métis comes from General Stanley McChrystal’s experience fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQIZ). It is not the cunning intelligence demonstrated in battle or theory, as in the two previous examples. As the former commander of Joint Special Operations Command explains in Team of Teams, turning the tide against AQIZ required a change in organizational structure. The resulting shift in the culture, of course, demonstrates métis. What is more notable, however, is the nature of their reforms: “we realized that of all the unexpected and blindingly obvious things, our [limiting factor] lay in the mundane art of management.” McChrystal recognized that rigid command and control arrangements are a disadvantage in a world that is dangerous and disorderly. Centralized planning and hierarchical structures are not agile enough to prevail in a world that is wicked once over. AQIZ, lacking the ability to rely on brute force, already evolved to incorporate this flexibility into their strategy. In metic fashion, McChrystal learned from his opponent and, instead of searching for perfect solutions, his team sought a way to instill resilience and “organic fluidity” throughout the increasingly nimble organization.[xxxii] They concluded that promoting rapid learning over predictability and networks over hierarchy were the best ways to use chaos, complexity, and non-linear change to their own advantage.

A Novel of the Next War. The final example comes from fiction. This is appropriate for two reasons. First, the original idea of métis comes to us in the form of a myth, and is subsequently illustrated in stories, both real and fictional. Second, the metic thinker values storytelling as a tool of strategy, both to make sense of the operating environment and to prod it towards the desired end state. These are the exact reasons P.W. Singer and August Cole decided to use a novel to frame their vision of a high-tech, network-centric war. The story, which explained potential consequences of near-term security trends, has shaped the conversation amongst defense professionals.[xxxiii] The action in their book Ghost Fleet also demonstrates métis. First, it depicts deception across all levels of warfare, a technique scorned by Plato and incompatible with the claim that the “western way of war” scorns subterfuge.[xxxiv] An even sharper example is the contrast between opponents. One belligerent is wedded to centralized control and technological omniscience. The other is a creative, messy, pluralistic society that eventually turns the tide of the conflict through the entrepreneurial spirit of diverse characters. Like the other stories of métis, the indirect approach prevails in the end.

The spirit of Métis lives on today throughout the joint force. Some have proposed a pseudo-doctrinal model in which the design process is itself designed as the planning team conducts operational design.[xxxv] Others are suggesting more sensors fusing more information is less important than increasing tolerance for action without complete situational awareness. The related emphasis on decentralized, adaptive behavior is mirrored in the idea of mission command. Additionally, the psychological effects inherent in métis are part of what the DoD labels information operations. Finally, there is growing acknowledgement that social, emotional, and cultural intelligence are key enablers of successful operations. Even intuition and storytelling are increasingly accepted as important skills for modern warfighters.[xxxvi] Why, then, highlight it with an obscure name; a name that, in some extreme interpretations, contradicts the joint values of honor and integrity? If stories matter for organizational culture, why use this story?

Why Métis Matters

There are a variety of reasons to add the myth of Métis to the DoD’s stock of strategic thinkers. Her reputation emphasizes creativity, which a group of US Army researchers suggested may be “the most crucial and difficult to master element of strategic thinking.”[xxxvii] It gives expression to a range of proverbial phrases, including how to “gain from disorder,” “push power to the edge,” and “become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”[xxxviii] Furthermore, it grounds those ideas in history, linking them to events already taught in PME. It also extends Napoleon’s idea of coup d’œil – the “gift of being able to see at a glance the possibilities offered by the terrain…inborn in great generals” – beyond physical landscapes and innately talented commanders.[xxxix] The list of advantages goes on, but there are three particular reasons to emphasize this ancient idea to today’s joint force.

First, it highlights the fallacy of “military orientalism:” the flawed and dangerous idea that the East is a coherent, monolithic entity that is alone endowed with mystical strategic thinkers.[xl] US officers marvel at Sun Tzu quotes, such as “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting,” because they seem so counter to our conventional ideals of battle.[xli] Even the authors of Ghost Fleet could not resist multiple references to Sun Tzu by characters who employ the axioms to support contradictory arguments. The truth is that successful cultures are not static (they learn and adapt), geography is not destiny (they learn from anyone they can), and, most importantly, the West—to use an equally problematic construct—has its own record of cunning intelligence. It is true that zhi, the Chinese equivalent to métis, never left their strategic vocabulary, but our own culture is slowly recovering from the prejudice of Plato.[xlii]

Second, the non-rational aspects of métis highlight another limit to the current understanding of strategic thinking: assuming it is only about thinking. Instead, the myth, like the many metaphors used to describe it, emphasizes a balance between rationality and intuition, between objectivity and subjectivity, and between science and art. Métis makes room for feelings, passion, and tacit awareness. Indeed, it suggests a linguistic change from strategic thinking to strategic sense. This broader category transcends and includes rationality while simultaneously insinuating a host of other abilities: to be attuned to one’s surrounding, to quickly discern the situation (including one’s own limited perspective), and to cleverly apply the right combination of power and persuasion to achieve a goal. An example is repeatedly reframing the operational environment, not to uncover an objective reality, but to understand one’s own mental and emotional reactions.[xliii] Such self-referential sense-making activities require creativity in times of crisis, emotional intelligence, and the unusual ability to resist overlaying an artificial coherence onto complex circumstances. All of this certainly makes métis a tricky subject for codification, theorizing, and education. Yet those very same reasons are why it is so apt for navigating and nudging a world that is doubly wicked; a world in which the past offers useful stories, but never prescriptive solutions. Strategic sense implies a journey of reflection and learning that is as much “visceral as intellectual.”[xliv]

Sense implies knowledge that is not only embodied, but also embedded in the immediate, local context. Tactics are the most localized activities militaries conduct. A consistent critique of PME, in fact, is the failure to help leaders—chosen to attend in-resident programs largely based on their tactical prowess—transition their habits of mind to those required by the operational and strategic levels of warfare. Yet, this narrative is distorted by the tendency to compare the performance of tactics with the theorizing of campaign strategy. Tactical responses do, of course, require quasi-automatic instincts honed through realistic training. This is different than conceptualizing tactics. Likewise, designing operations and strategies should be a comprehensive, rigorous process. This, however, does not mean the mechanics of that process are executed with matching rigor. Strategic sense can inform both, because it highlights the need to integrate all faculties at the point where a decision is made, whether it is a decision to act or a decision about future action. It therefore bridges what Barry Watts identifies as the “cognitive boundary” between operational design and tactical action. In other words, aided by the exemplar of metis, our warfighters can begin honing their “strategic” capacity before a singular PME experience around the mid-point of their military careers.[xlv]  

The third and final benefit for the joint force comes from the fact that métis impacts the ability to work effectively with others.[xlvi] This collaborative element is often lost among explanations that only define it through contrast with brute force in the context of hostilities. Métis, however, is equally important in knowing how to react to and shape the uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and (unfortunately) sometimes volatile world of interpersonal, interservice, intragovernmental, and intergovernmental relationships. This too is part of Homer’s legacy, demonstrated in Odysseus’s ability to encourage disparate actors to achieve unity of effort. It is also present in each of the vignettes offered above.

Themistocles, for example, was known as Odysseus for reasons other than his generalship. Like his mythological namesake, he was a deft politician and an able orator who could quickly sense the essence of an unfolding situation and use metaphorical reasoning to explain the situation to others.[xlvii] Indeed, the very reason Athens could contest the invasion was that Themistocles, one of the earliest to embrace popular rule, convinced citizens to invest in a navy and then to abandon their homes to crew the ships. Concurrently, he nimbly worked diplomatic issues to hold the Greek alliance together.[xlviii] In the second instance, Airmen collaborated amongst themselves and allied partners to produce and execute a variety of air strategies. They also crafted shrewd ways to convince skeptics in the US defense establishment to invest in air power. This included appeals to American values, often made through indirect public relations campaigns, as well as taking advantage of ambiguous War Department requests to assert their own strategic logic.[xlix] Similarly, McCrystal’s networked approach to battling AQIZ required him to first lead a cultural shift in an organization that was only comfortable with complexity and chaos at the tactical level. Finally, using a fictional story to convey a vision of future war allowed the authors of Ghost Fleet to cunningly influence the larger discourse in ways a policy paper could not match.

Epilogue

In this article we attempted to practice the same crafty intelligence we are advocating. Yet, in case what we thought was clever came across to the reader as clumsy, we restate the argument here as explicitly as possible, along with some of the subtleties we thought befitted the goddess of strategic wisdom.

The world is dangerous and disorderly. We suggest the phrase “wicked once over,” because it is both alliterative and metaphorical, and thus memorable and thought provoking. Among all the aspects of the joint force that must adapt to this truth, two of the most critical areas are our ability to think strategically and our organizational cultures. They are interrelated, of course, with the latter defining the former and the former being called on to reform the latter. In both cases, the use of stories should be expanded. That is, we need a new exemplar of a strategic thinker. We offer one that not only originates as a story, and is often described by resorting to other stories, but who validates the use of stories for strategic effects. Naturally then, we also used stories for illustration, often suggesting unconventional interpretations of well-established narratives about Plato, strategic bombing, and the distinctions between levels of warfare.

This focus on storytelling is also meant to emphasize the subjective nature of strategic thinking. In fact, we hope to shift the paradigm beyond those who write strategy, a specific level of warfare, authors of a strategic theory, or even conscious, objective thought. In its place, we offer Métis as an exemplar of strategic sense, defined as an executive intelligence operating over traditional dichotomies: thinking and intuiting, confidence and humility, security and vulnerability, force and deception, physical and psychological, direct and indirect approaches, and exploiting the known or exploring the unknown. Métis does not just find a balance, but uses the creative tension between them to yield advantage in a particular context. Her traits are already operative in our joint force, but they deserve to be called forth, categorized under a single label, and deliberately integrated into our culture. Doing so demystifies its equivalent in other strategic cultures, identifies a continuous element across the levels of warfare, and hones our aptitude for collaboration across organizational divides.

Introducing Métis is just the first step. We will leave some topics for future scholarship, such as how métis and the notion of strategic sense should change PME, talent management, our reliance on doctrine, or the discourse amongst defense professionals. For now we will leave the reader with one final point. Yes, Métis sets a high standard for anyone to emulate; it is hard to find her gifts in any one (non-fictional) mortal. That, however, leads to the final and central benefit. Perhaps the only reliable way to employ métis is through teamwork, and only through teamwork can we ever be an effective joint force.

MAJ(P) Mindi Furnier, USA. MAJ(P) Furnier works in the intelligence section in the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command. She is a Military Intelligence officer with operational experience in a variety of theaters. She has a BS in Operations Research from West Point, and a MS in Engineering Management of Space Systems from UC Colorado Springs.

CDR Jason Grant, USN, recently selected for promotion to Captain (CAPT), is the Deputy Director, 21st Century Sailor Office. He began his career as a Surface Warfare Officer with several deployments and later transitioned as a Human Resources Officer. He holds a BS in Political Science from the US Naval Academy, a Masters in Business Administration from Keller Graduate School and is a doctoral candidate at Regent University’s School of Business and Leadership.

Col Jason “TOGA” Trew, USAF. Col Trew is the Dean of the USAF’s Squadron Officer School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. His operational background includes assignments as a F-15C pilot and an Air Liaison Officer (III Corps and 10 Mountain Division). He is a graduate of the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies and earned a PhD in history from Auburn University.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. Government.

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Featured Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_man_Prometheus_Berthelemy_Louvre_INV20043_n2.jpg

Images of Prometheus and Athena are familiar. Apart from their co-creation of humanity depicted in the painting, however, few know what else links them — or why that connection matters for the modern military.

[i] Quoted in Paul S. Bate, Strategies for Cultural Change (London, Routledge, 2010), 260.

[ii] Quoted in Barry D. Watts, “U.S. Combat Training, Operational Art and Strategic Competence,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, available at <https://csbaonline.org/research/publications/u-s-combat-training-operational-art-and-strategic-competence>, 58.

[iii] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in General Theory Planning,” Policy Sciences, June 1973, available at < https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01405730) >; Jeff Conklin, “Wicked Problems and Social Complexity,” 2006, pp. 7–8, available at http://cognexus.org/wpf/wickedproblems.pdf>.

[iv] To cite just a single example, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force recently issued a challenge to  “design an app, develop an algorithm, or create a new approach that integrates and displays data to provide real-time understanding of our operating environments” (Alyssa C. Gibson, “Inaugural Vice Chief’s Challenge seeks game-changing innovations,” <https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1732315/inaugural-vice-chiefs-challenge-seeks-game-changing-innovations/&gt; (accessed 27 January 2019)).

[v] Ben Zweibelson, “The Multidisciplinary Design Movement: A Frame for Realizing Industry, Security, and Academia Interplay,” Small Wars Journal, available at < https://smallwarsjournal.com/index.php/jrnl/art/multidisciplinary-design-movement-frame-realizing-industry-security-and-academia-interplay>.

[vi] DOD, National Defense Strategy (Washington, DC: DOD, January 2018), 8; Joint Chiefs of Staff 2030 Vision for Professional Military Education and Talent Management, “Waging Globally Integrated War and Operations (Draft),” 1; Daniel H. McCauley, “Rediscovering the Art of Strategic Thinking: Developing 21st-Century Strategic Leaders,” Joint Force Quarterly 81, <https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/702006/rediscovering-the-art-of-strategic-thinking-developing-21st-century-strategic-l/ 26>.

[vii] McCauley, “Rediscovering the Art of Strategic Thinking,” 26.

[viii] There is little consensus on strategic thinking, but a group of social scientists working for US Army Research Institute identified themes across a variety of theoretical models (Sackett, Anna L., et al., “Enhancing the Strategic Capability of the Army: An Investigation of Strategic Thinking Tasks, Skills, and Development,” 1 February 2016, available at <https://apps.dtic.mil/docs/citations/AD1006147>, 1-4). Another good primer is Daniel H. McCauley’s article (see footnote 8). It is also noteworthy that one’s own thinking is part of a conceptual system, meaning that strategic thinking requires reflection on one’s own cognitive activities.

[ix] Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 4th edition (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 18.

[x] Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 14-8, 23-8, 256; Simmons and Lipman, The Story Factor, xiii; The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007). Also see Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez or the co-author’s thesis, “Heroes for a Wicked World: Ender’s Game as a Case for Fiction in PME,” DTIC Online, available at <https://apps.dtic.mil/docs/citations/AD1015746>.

[xi] Jerome Bruner, Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 98; Donald Kagan, Pericles Of Athens And The Birth Of Democracy (New York, NY: Free Press, 1998) 137-44; Charles L. Griswold, “Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), available at < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2016/entries/plato-rhetoric >; Jasper Griffin, “The Speeches.” Cambridge Companion to Homer, ed. Robert Fowler, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 156.

[xii] Jerome Bruner, Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 98; Donald Kagan, Pericles Of Athens And The Birth Of Democracy (New York, NY: Free Press, 1998) 137-44; Charles L. Griswold, “Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), available at < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2016/entries/plato-rhetoric >; Jasper Griffin, “The Speeches.” Cambridge Companion to Homer, ed. Robert Fowler, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 156; Kagan, Pericles Of Athens And The Birth Of Democracy 21, 137-44; Griswold, “Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.); Griffin, “The Speeches.” Cambridge Companion to Homer, ed., 156; John Thorley, Athenian Democracy, 2nd edition (London: Routledge, 2004), 10. 

[xiii]Kendall Haven, Story Proof: The Science behind the Startling Power of Story (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007); Trew, “Heroes for a Wicked World.”

[xiv] Jeffrey W. Meiser, “Ends + ways + means = (bad) strategy,” Parameters 46, no. 4 (2016), available at <https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/issues/Winter_2016-17/10_Meiser.pdf >.

[xv] Barry D. Watts, “Clausewitzian Friction and Future War Revised Edition,” National Defense University Washington DC Institute For National Strategic Studies, available at < https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a427577.pdf >; Carl Clausewitz, On War (London: Penguin, 1982), 141.

[xvi] Christopher Mewett, “Understanding War’s Enduring Nature Alongside its Changing Character,” War on the Rocks, January 214, 2014, available at <https://warontherocks.com/2014/01/understanding-wars-enduring-nature-alongside-its-changing-character/&gt;.

[xvii] Samuel E. Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy. 6th edition. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 1999), 46; Trew, “Heroes for a Wicked World,” 17.

[xviii] Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 315.

[xix] Ibid., 307, 3-4.

[xx] Ibid., 18; Lisa Raphals, Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), xii.

[xxi] Detienne and Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society,5, 14, 18, 313; Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility Of Goodness: Luck And Ethics in Greek Tragedy And Philosophy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 82, 300, 310; James C. Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 324, 329, 332, 352; Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), 554-5; James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games (New York, NY: Free Press, 1986).

[xxii] Trew, “Heroes for a Wicked World,” 36-76.

[xxiii] Detienne and Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, 2, 17-18, 307, 313; Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, 20, 194-5; Lisa Raphals, Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), xii, 193, 213, 217; Freedman, Strategy: A History, 24; Gregory Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 47.

[xxiv] Detienne and Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, 3-5, 307-8, 317-8; Jeffrey Barnouw, Odysseus, Hero of Practical Intelligence: Deliberation and Signs in Homer’s Odyssey (Lanham, MD: UPA, 2004), 2-3, 12, 33. 

[xxv] Freedman, Strategy, 42.

[xxvi] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War,” Tufts University Online Library, available at < http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Thuc. 1.138&fromdoc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0200>.

[xxvii] Herodotus, translated by George Rawlinson, On Airs, Waters, and Places by Hippocrates, The Internet Classics Archive, available at < http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.8.viii.html>.; Jordan Butler, “Deceit and Espionage in Thucydides,” Ancient Pasts, (2016), available at < https://ancientpasts.as.ua.edu/greek-history/deceit-and-espionage-in-thucydides-2/. >

[xxviii] Hippocrates, translated by George Rawlinson, On Airs, Waters, and Places, The Internet Classics Archive, available at <http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.8.viii.html >; Hanson, Persian Fire (2005), 12–60; Barry Strauss, The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece—and Western Civilization (New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 2005); Victor D. Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles In The Rise Of Western power, (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2001), 59.

[xxix] Colin S. Gray, Airpower for Strategic Effect (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 2012), 77.

[xxx] Tactical airframes outnumbered long-range bombers in various expansion plans approved by the War department between 1933 and 1945, despite the evidence that the larger aircraft had more potential for technological breakthroughs and that bombers were necessary for hemispheric defense (Futrell, 67, 69, 79, 80-3, 96-7, 101, 107, 132-3); Thomas H. Greer, The Development of Air Doctrine in the Army Air Arm, 1917-1941 (Washington, D.C: Office of Air Force History, U.S. Air Force, 1985), 116-7.

[xxxi] Peter R. Faber, “Interwar US Army Aviation and the Air Corps Tactical School: Incubators of American Airpower” in The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory, ed. Phillip S. Meilinger (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1997), 212, 223; Robert Frank Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force 1907-1960, vol. 1 (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1989), 82-4. For a single representative sample, see “Syllabus, 1938-39,” 27 April 1939, AFHRA, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, file 248.2208B. Meilinger points out that in 1935 there were more periods dedicated to horseback riding than bombing (Phillip S. Meilinger, Airpower: Myths and Facts (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 2015), 18).

[xxxii] Stanley A. McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell, Team Of Teams: New Rules Of Engagement For A Complex World (New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2015), 2, 20.

[xxxiii] Adin Dobkin, “Reviewing Ghost Fleet: The Successes (and Shortcomings) of Informed Fiction and Strategy,” The Strategy Bridge, June 23, 2015, available at < https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2015/12/13/reviewing-ghost-fleet>; Eric M. Murphy, “Reviewing Ghost Fleet: Go Back! It’s a Trap!,” The Strategy Bridge, July 29, 2015, available at <https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2015/11/15/reviewing-ghost-fleet-go-back-its-a-trap-1&gt;.

[xxxiv] Victor D. Hanson, The Western Way Of War: Infantry Battle In Classical Greece (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009); John A. Lynn. Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003).

[xxxv] Zweibelson, “The Multidisciplinary Design Movement.”

[xxxvi] Heather M. K. Wolters, Anna P. Grome, and Ryan M. Hinds, “Exploring Strategic Thinking: Insights to Assess, Develop, and Retain Army Strategic Thinkers”, U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, February 2013, available at https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a577290.pdf, 1; Barry D. Watts, “U.S. Combat Training, Operational Art and Strategic Competence,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; Trew, “Heroes for a Wicked World”; Milan Vego, Military History and the Study of Operational, Joint Forces Quarterly Issue 57, 2d qtr, 2010, 140 available at < https://ndupress.ndu.edu/portals/68/Documents/jfq/jfq-57.pdf&gt;; William Duggan, “Coup D’Oeil: Strategic Intuition in Army Planning,” Strategic Studies Institute, available at <http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/PUB631.pdf&gt;.

[xxxvii] US Army Research Institute identified themes across a variety of theoretical models (2-3). Anna L. Sackett, et al., “Enhancing the Strategic Capability of the Army: An Investigation of Strategic Thinking Tasks, Skills, and Development,” 1 February 2016, available at <https://apps.dtic.mil/docs/citations/AD1006147>, 2-3.

[xxxviii] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Reprint edition (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014); Chris Dessi, “How to Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable (According to a Green Beret)” Inc.com, November 15, 2016, available at < https://www.inc.com/chris-dessi/how-to-get-comfortable-with-being-uncomfortable-according-to-a-green-beret.html>.

[xxxix] Napoleon and Somerset De Chair, Napoleon on Napoleon: The Autobiography of the Emperor (London: Brockhampton Press, 1998).

[xl] Patrick Porter, Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2009).

[xli] Lionel Giles, The Art of War (Paperback) by Sun Tzu, trans by Lionel Giles (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002), 37.

[xlii] Raphals, Knowing Words, xii-xiii; Jason Trew, “No One Comes Close: US Airmen and Their Technological Paradigm” (unpublished dissertation); Julian Baggini, “Plato Got Virtually Everything Wrong” Prospect Magazine, September 20, 2018, available at <https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/plato-got-virtually-everything-wrong.&gt;

[xliii] George Shatzer, “Creativity Lost: Joint Doctrine and Design” in Campaigning: The Journal of the Joint Forces Staff College (Spring 2014, available at <https://jfsc.ndu.edu/portals/72/documents/JCWS/campaigning/2014_campaigning_spring.pdf&gt;, 14-7.

[xliv] Jeffrey Barnouw, Odysseus, Hero of Practical Intelligence, 2-3, 33.

[xlv] Barry D. Watts, “U.S. Combat Training, Operational Art and Strategic Competence,” 36-37.

[xlvi] Raphals, Knowing Words, 207-8, 211, 215, 221, 230; Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, 19-20.

[xlvii] Wheeler, Stratagem and the Vocabulary of Military Trickery, 29; Detienne and Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, 314.

[xlviii] Kathleen Kuiper and Andrew Robert Burn, “Themistocles,” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 8, 2018, available at <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Themistocles>; Tom Holland, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West (London: Folio Society, 2018), 164-7; 214–217, 251-55.

[xlix] Mark Clodfelter, Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917-1945, 1-6, 89-102; Michael S. Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, 38, 99-100.

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