Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.
Upon entering an institute of higher education, pay attention—can you feel the difference between a place where minds expand freely toward solutions and inventions as yet unknown and a place where relative success has stagnated growth and dulled mental sharpness? Educational institutions and research centers must understand the constant need to modernize. This issue of the Army Lawyer is dedicated to the widespread efforts to modernize our Army—an Army looking to “leapfrog ahead” of our near-peer adversaries with “spirals of capability,” phrases anyone paying attention to the Army’s renaissance has certainly heard once, if not countless times.
Our Regimental Family constantly adapts to changes to the law. It is what makes the Legal Center and School (LCS) unique and the premier educational institution in the Department of Defense (DoD). Legal professionals must be agile, adaptable, and flexible, all while remaining laser-focused on an unwavering commitment to ensuring we provide principled counsel. That is what we do every day and in every environment in which we advise clients. While we regularly adapt to changes in the law to best advise our clients, that is only one area in which our agility may be challenged. As the leaders whom we advise plan, and as we advise to inform those plans, we all remain acutely aware that the enemy gets a vote. Recently, the enemy—in the form of COVID-19—certainly has exercised that right in a way that has impacted all of our lives.
At the LCS, the enemy’s vote profoundly challenged our institution to demonstrate its ability to rapidly evolve—to modernize—how we educate and train our Army. From in-resident instruction to distance learning, I am proud to report that every member of this incredible team has demonstrated the agility and innovation necessary to ensure a near-seamless transition. The list of those classes is long: two sections of the Advanced Leader Course, the Warrant Officer Advanced Course, the 210th Judge Advocate Officer Basic Course, and the 68th Graduate Course. Over 300 students—all of whom were in the building when DoD shifted its posture in response to the pandemic. Not only did we quickly and effectively pivot to overcome the constraints of the new operating environment, we also routinely conducted after action reviews, facilitating continuous improvement and adjustment as the pandemic has endured.
One of the main reasons the LCS was successful in its pivot from traditional to distance learning—while maintaining the highest standards of educational quality—was the Army’s ever-present can-do mindset. We are used to rolling up our sleeves and accomplishing the mission, even in unpredictable and uncontrollable conditions.
Another, potentially more important factor contributing to the successful and rapid transition in the midst of chaos and hesitation is the innovative mindset of our valued staff and faculty. Some organizations’ culture may unintentionally suppress leaders’ and subordinates’ creativity and initiative. Perhaps this is due to an organizational intolerance of failure, disapproval of disruption, or simple comfort with “the way things are.” Modernization, however, not only allows for failure and disruption—it requires them.
In this case, the global pandemic threw the usual rulebook out the window. With it went mental limitations on how we must or may accomplish the mission, judgment about ideas suggested to solve new challenges, and potential embarrassment if an idea doesn’t pan out. Any remaining cultural artifacts that stifle innovation disappeared. All ideas were on the table. This approach fueled the rapid roll-out of distance learning and the robust communications infrastructure supporting work-from-home capabilities. What resulted, particularly after a highly-successful, first-ever virtual Senior Officer Legal Orientation—conducted while the rest of professional military education across the Army had shut down—was the LCS earning the reputation as the Army-wide standard–bearer for distance learning transition.
This rapid fielding would not have blossomed so fully overnight had the seeds not already been planted. Organizations cannot be failure-intolerant one day and innovative after the enemy casts its vote the next day. An educational institution is naturally ripe for cultivating an experimental culture, and the LCS is no different. Graduate Course students were already encouraged to “think big thoughts,” and professors and staff encouraged to try new teaching methods, technology, and ways to communicate. Whether it was a student’s thesis on blockchain technology and military legal practice, the Battlefield Next podcast, or the use of Turning Point and other technology platforms in the classroom, the LCS and the Corps advocated mental agility and valued outside-the-box thinking long before the pandemic shrugged off any remaining mental barriers.
Modernization is not simply technology and lethality. It is also raising your hand to suggest a new solution to an old problem, managing diverse talent to maximize effectiveness, fulfillment, and retention, and developing deep expertise and broad versatility to meet our Army’s future needs. Modernization is an investment in the future of our Corps, looking ahead to what we will need in the years to come and seeking to resolve future challenges now. Stewarding the profession into the future requires valuing modernization—and a culture that facilitates it.
The challenge for each of us is to identify the aspects of our practices and our organizations that mandate that our stewardship obligations drive modernization. It is both a mindset, as well as a practice. And it requires everyone in the formation to have a voice. TAL
Be ready, stay nimble, and keep moving forward!