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R&R: Reading and Reviews

In this issue, Army Logistician is launching a new department—a book review column for logisticians we call “R & R: Reading and Reviews.” If you have read a logistics-related book that you would like to review for your peers, contact us for more information at leeealog@conus.army.mil. Please do not send us a review until you have talked to us. We look forward to hearing from you. —Editor

The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking. Roger L. Martin. Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007, 224 pages.

In 2007, Harvard Business Review published “How Successful Leaders Think” by Roger Martin. The article, a preview of his forthcoming book, The Opposable Mind, was widely acclaimed. This praise was not surprising given Martin’s credentials: He received the Marshall McLuhan Award for Visionary Leadership in 2003, and he was one of BusinessWeek’s seven “Innovation Gurus” in 2005. Two years later, the same magazine selected him as one of the 10 most influential business professors in the world. Martin, currently dean of the management school at the University of Toronto, is no naive intellectual but a graduate of the Harvard master’s in business administration program and an entrepreneur who helped grow Monitor Company from a startup to a global strategy-consulting firm. The Opposable Mind deserves an award as well; it is a superb blend of theory and professional practice that makes it a profitable read for any leader by contributing to our understanding of how leaders should think about their craft.

Martin’s book begins with a simple premise captured by American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald in his 1936 essay, “The Crack-Up.” “The test of a first-rate intelligence,” Fitzgerald wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Martin argues that this ability should not belong solely to geniuses but also to leaders. He bases his argument on his interviews and analysis of more than 50 leaders of corporations and non-profit organizations, from Proctor and Gamble to the Toronto International Film Festival—a group diverse in age, gender, and other characteristics.

The key insight Martin gained from this expansive study was that, simply put, highly successful leaders do not think like most of their counterparts. The common element is their refusal to accept tradeoffs between two options—“either/or thinking.” Instead, they use “integrative thinking,” which Martin defines as “the ability to face constructively the tensions in opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.”

Martin does not belittle contemporary management theorists who have uncovered the components of successful organizations (ones that favor a bias for action). He would never dispute the importance of “doing,” but he also believes that a leader’s thinking makes the difference. Effective leaders, he contends, have a bias for thinking first. He also has no objection to studying the careers of business giants such as General Electric’s Jack Welch, whom he interviews, but he cautions that the context in which a particular leader attains success will not necessarily translate directly to the situation another leader confronts.

Refreshingly, Martin readily admits that integrative thinking is neither a necessary step for success nor a cure-all. What he offers is more lasting and valuable, particularly for logisticians who seek leadership success at the highest level of command and government. It is a disciplined way of thinking through the knotty problems leaders confront and will likely improve their chances of organizational achievement. His motto for leaders might be, “Think harder.”

Martin explains integrative thinking by examining decisionmaking, the leader’s ultimate responsibility. He breaks the decisionmaking process into four steps: determining salience, analyzing causality, evaluating the decision architecture, and achieving resolution.

The first step is not to focus on only the obvious features relevant to making a decision, but to search for the less obvious ones. The leader must be willing to leave his comfort zone and tolerate “messy,” “complex,” and “chaotic” challenges—not eliminate issues or problems because they are distressing. Second, the leader should test the relationship between cause and effect. Third, the leader should not examine a problem in a linear fashion or by breaking it into pieces to solve separately; instead, he should examine it holistically. Here logisticians will find Martin’s example particularly apt as he describes the link between transportation systems and supply distribution—a concrete example of how pieces fit together and influence one another. Fourth, to achieve resolution, the leaders must set high standards that block the acceptance of for-or-against results and instead opt for creative solutions.

The final chapter of Martin’s book is a short course on creating a personal knowledge system. By integrating stance (that is, how you perceive the world around you and your role in it), tools such as formal theories and rules of thumb, and experience, a leader can learn to think strategically. This is an essential competency for logisticians leading organizations in the current operational environment that remains volatile, complex, and uncertain.

Frank L. Jones is a professor of security studies at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

A Devotion to Duty: Memoirs of General Jimmy D. Ross. Jimmy D. Ross (USA, Ret.), Dr. Mary Magee, Dr. William Moye, et al. Historical Office, U.S. Army Materiel Command, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, 2007, 367 pages.

If one is going to begin a series of works, it is sometimes best to start easy. A Devotion to Duty is one of those uncomplicated starts. It is written with an informal style that draws the reader along. The narrative from birth to commissioning serves to tell us that the subject, General Jimmy D. Ross, a former commander of the Army Materiel Command, was once an average kid who entered the Army for any number of reasons. The journey from lieutenant to major reflects a steep learning curve and an unusual assignment pattern.

By the time Jimmy Ross was a major, he had enjoyed 2 years with the 14th Infantry Regiment at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Then, according to the practices then prevailing, he transferred into the Transportation Corps, only to be shifted to a 9-month detail to Task Force Air Cobra—a semisecret Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) operation in Thailand—to evaluate its potential to host a large U.S. force. As the Nation struggled through civil rights trials and the Kennedy assassination, Ross was off to Vietnam for 1964 and 1965 as a battalion adviser—infantry battalion, that is.

The logistician in Ross began to emerge as he was assigned to the U.S. Strike Command’s J–4 Directorate. In that position, he participated in many exercises as well as several Operation Garden Plot deployments. [Garden Plot is the Department of the Army Civil Disturbance Plan, the generic operations plan for military support to domestic civil disturbances.]

Ross returned to Vietnam in June 1969, this time to serve as the 101st Airborne Division Support Command S–4, 1 month after the Battle of Hamburger Hill. At this point in the book, logisticians should slow the page turning and pay close attention. While the style remains informal, lessons can be learned in almost every paragraph. On page 131, Ross describes how he and a group of friends analyzed affairs (as they happened) and applied their experiences to get the mission right the next time. One particular episode revolved around putting contractors on the battlefield, a practice implemented years later, resulting in huge savings in time and expense. Jerked out of the S–4 position to become the commander of the 10th Transportation Battalion (as a major), Ross found himself in charge of a 1,300-person cargo-handling outfit that included some of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s “Project 100,000” Soldiers (with port security as an additional duty).

Then came Ross’s time in the Pentagon and his selection as a staff officer for the Chief of Staff of the Army. Here we see the beginnings of the rebuilding of a damaged Army, specifically the establishment of the Army Materiel Command. Ross passes over these periods quickly and superficially, only pausing to recognize the friendships formed, which became critical in latter years.

By the time Ross became a brigadier general and assumed command of the 2d Support Command (Corps), VII Corps, the reader will find logistics issues taking on more definition, addressing how to actually provide corps support with insufficient storage facilities, communications, pipelines, heavy equipment transporters, and bodies to perform the requisite labor. While the solutions portrayed here are unique to U.S. Army Europe in the 1980s, they are indicative of just how far out of the box one may have to go at times to come up with viable solutions.

Moving from Europe back to the Pentagon, Ross became the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Department of the Army, which forced him to confront measures to compensate for the programmed elimination of 10,000 cooks from the Army ranks. Ross worked with General Robert W. Sennewald, a respected former field commander, to address acceptability issues.

The next issue Ross addressed was ugly new uniforms—BDUs [battle dress uniforms], insulated boots, “unprofessional and slovenly” raincoats, ribbons on the original flimsy green shirt, and belted versus not-belted uniforms. In retrospect, it was an amusing but hugely emotional time. Here we learn that Army Chief of Staff General Carl E. Vuono brought up the idea of resurrecting the beret and alerted the Army staff to the magnitude of the 1989 downsizing decision. This entire section is loaded with the business of doing business inside the Army and is enormously instructive.

All military readers will readily identify with stories that provide snappy reviews of major logistics issues confronting the Army from the mid-1980s to General Ross’s retirement, with life stories and professional lessons interlaced throughout. In short, this is an easy to read, very instructive insight into the world of Army logistics from the Vietnam War to Operation Desert Storm and slightly beyond.

Douglas V. Johnson is a professor of national security affairs at the Army War College Strategic Studies Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.