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September 15, 2005


Jacob H.


I appreciate and share your concern that Barnett's SysAdmin ideas could just turn into an argument for more bureaucracy. From my reading of Barnett's work, however, I do not see him explicitly advocating a "big company" approach. His partnership with Enterra, and the emphasis on _resilancy_ that it represents, seems to represent an appreciation of exactly the concerns you describe so eloquently. I haven't ever heard or read him spelling out exactly the structure of his SysAdmin force, or how it connects with his emphasis on resilancy, but I am trusting that his new book will do that.

Some people may very well be using Barnett's theories to advocate expanding bureaucracy, but I don't hear Barnett making that case. I hear him wanting to develop the military/diplomatic/private industry nexus in order to share robust and resiliant security practices across all three spheres the world over. I hear talk of leveraging and expanding existing networks, not of building new bureaucratic hierarchies.

You have made passing criticisms of Barnett before but I really don't see any fundamental conflicts between your work and his. You guys are two of the most insightful strategic thinkers on the scene right now. I think that each of you could gain alot by collaborating on something. Even if it was just a discussion, I think the interaction would produce a valuable contribution to our nation's strategic understanding. Have you ever considered trying anything like that?


John Robb

Thanks much for the considered feedback. My question: has the Federal government (or the DoD) ever done something on this scale that isn't laden with bureaucracy? I can't think of anything, can you?

In regards to a collaboration: I would be open to it, however I think Tom is very caught up in his own business right now.

phil jones

So I wonder what would a distributed SysAdmin look like?

It would have to look like some kind of open source bazaar / market.

Say you took crates and crates of good stuff (eg. building material, consumer goods, text books and educational material) to the Jordanian border, made them available really cheap to any Iraqi who came over the border to pick them up. Then you let the Iraqis figure out how to get them everywhere else.

The first thing is border tribes might be converted into traders, either taking them themselves or selling them on or building the biggest "out-of-town" shopping centres in the middle-east.

You protect this area from insurgents on oil-spot principles.

Presumably some Iraqi traders take this stuff into Baghdad and sell it. They need to construct viable trade routes into the city, designed, built and run by Iraqis. This provides jobs, builds infrastructure etc.


John - Does your Oddpost account look like this now?

YahooMail new "Outlook" interface LOOKS really nice. Thanks for the FYI on Oddpost's current interface!

John Robb

Hmm. I do know that the oil spot method wouldn't work in today's world. It is outdated.

Jacob H.

I can't think of any example off hand either. I'm not convinced, however, that this lack of precedence is proof that such change is impossible.

If Barnett was saying "we need to create an Office of Resiliancy to coordinate the efforts of private industry, DoD and State" then I'd be with you in saying that such an approach would be dead on arrival. But I don't hear that. Rather, I hear "we need to network so that _everyone_ understands what the future looks like and how we need to change to meet it." Or, to stop putting words in Dr. Barnett's mouth, I'll quote him directly:

"...rather than propose the possibility of a new Department of Everything Else...it's more logical to assume that DHS could aspire to that role as the country grows more confident in its societal resiliency (both public and private sector--hence my new association withi Enterra Solutions)..."


It all centers on a shared understanding of the present and a common vision of the future. Individuals in private industry sees your work on cascading failtures and low-cost disruptions, recognize their vulnerabilities and fix their own house. Meanwhile, individuals inside DHS hear Barnett, see the changes private industry is making and work to fix their surrounds to respond to the SysAdmin tasks they see a growing need for. As Barnett says, "...it's not a matter of influence but of accuracy..." It gives me Boyd tingles all over - unity, shared experiences and shared focus leading to a common orientation. Barnett's out there describing a unifying vision that offers a common focus. Change flows from actions taken by individuals who have a common orientation, thanks to a coherent and common vision. Change doesn't flow from the Federal Government.

If the change agent in this story were the Federal Government, I would share your wariness. Its approach to change is to establish a new bureaucratic structure; it works from the outside in. Barnett's working from the inside out. Harmonize the worldview of the individual first, then let those individuals loose and trust them. It is networked change. Think blitzkrieg. Think Boyd. Think Sun Tzu. It is foolish to speak of harmonizing an organization if there is not harmony within the members of that organization.

So the relevant question is not to ask whether the Federal Government has ever pulled something of this scale off without producing even more bureaucratic deadweight. The relevant question is whether the Federal Government has ever had something of this scale done _to_ it, and is there something inherent in its structure and nature that would prevent such inside-out change from succeeding? This is bigger than the Federal Government and it is subtler than the National Security Act of 1947.

As far as a collaboration goes, I hear you. Reading Barnett's blog, I wonder how he finds the time to sleep. But as you can see I'm taken with the idea, so I remain optimistic that it can happen.

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