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Knowing: Introduction

Key Topics


It is commonly known that the world is changing at a rapid pace and in uncertain directions. This is often referred to as a non-linear, dynamic, complex world in which predictability is rare if existent at all. If we accept this hypothesis, then clearly the art of warfare in the current world environment and in the face of a new asymmetric threat can no longer rely on the logic of the past to win future engagements. As we move away from predictable warfare patterns susceptible to logic, our leaders are increasingly reliant on their "gut" instinct, an internal sense of "knowing." To prepare ourselves to understand current situational assessments and potential enemy threats, it is essential that we learn to identify, interpret, make decisions, and take appropriate action to counter these new threats utilizing this sense of "knowing."

To do this, we must overcome three critical problem areas. The first is a thorough and deep understanding of ourselves, i.e., our goals, objectives, values, limitations, internal defenses, and weaknesses of thought and action. By knowing ourselves we learn to work within our limitations and to support our strengths, thus ensuring that the data, information, and knowledge coming to us is properly identified and interpreted. The second critical element is that of knowing the enemy. This includes areas such as culture, goals and objectives, thinking patterns, internal inconsistencies, warfare capabilities, strategies, tactics, and political motivations. Knowing ourselves and knowing the enemy is a primary theme throughout Sun Tzu's famous master text on The Art of War:

So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

After understanding ourselves and working to understand the enemy, the third critical area is that of "knowing" the situation in as objective and realistic manner as possible, understanding the situation in context. The current dynamics of our environment, the multiple forces involved, the complexity of relationships, the many aspects of events that are governed by human emotion, and the unprecedented amount of available data and information make situational awareness a challenging but essential phenomenon.

Traditional warfare based on command and control utilizes trained-in reactions to pre-determined warfare scenarios. This approach offers quick response without much flexibility. The new knowledge warfare based on empowerment is a learned ability, developed by leaders over a period of time. The warfighting space where empowerment overlaps traditional warfare is the area of optimization and translates into agility and flexibility at the point of action without losing quick response. The knowledge and judgment capabilities of individuals at the front lines translate directly into warfighting success. Knowing ourselves, knowing the enemy, and knowing the situation, lay the framework and foundation for making effective decisions and taking the right actions, providing of course that we have built an effective warfighting capability to respond with agility and flexibility to surprise situations.

What are the skills and capabilities that will enable our competency of "knowing" as applied to the art of warfare? An Expert Forum held in October 1999, hosted by the Under Secretary of the Navy, surfaced some potential candidates for this skill set.

In summary, the concept of "knowing" offers a framework for developing deep knowledge within the self and for sharing that knowledge with others to create a new level of situational awareness. Since each situation is unique, this framework does not provide specific answers. Rather, it suggests questions and paths to follow. Although the goal is not new, the above considerations, together with their examples, outline major factors that contribute to the "positioning" as understood by Sun Tzu in the year 500 B.C. Recall his still famous dictum for victory: "Position yourself so there is no battle."

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Situational Awareness

The U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences held a Situational Awareness Workshop in 1998 that addressed the possibility of making Situational Awareness (SA) a "basic" or habitual way of processing and thinking about sensory inputs. SA applied to the Army is defined as knowledge of a specific situation that enables a commander to place current battlefield events into context; to readily share a portrayal of the situation with staff and subordinates; and to predict, expect and prepare for future states and actions. SA focuses on the mental or intellectual processes, and results from the ability to drive expected outcomes from conscious and automatic processes, for example, intuition. During the 1998 Workshop, the Army Research Institute explored the following questions: Do high SA individuals have better spatial ability or different spatial abilities? Are they better at attention sharing or pattern matching? Do they have mental models or schemas that allow them to be more aware? Do they have the ability to discern patterns that others find difficult? While conclusions were not reached, the rich thinking coming out of this workshop included a proposal to design SA exercises to train leaders to adapt to various unpredicted actions on the part of the enemy, i.e., unknown unknowns, and to train them to examine their own plans from the adversary's perspective. Sun Tzu agrees that if we know the enemy and understand the situation, we are in the position of maximizing our probability of success even within a dynamic, fast-moving warfare scenario.

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Area of Optimization

Area of optimization

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Expert Forum

The Expert Forum, held at the Naval War College in Newport, brought together senior DON leadership and world-class thinkers with diverse areas of expertise. These thinkers included Edward DeBono (the father of lateral thinking), Catherine Allen (CEO of the Banking Industry Technology Secretariat), Bernard Boar (author of The Art of Strategic Planning for IT), Michael Bayer (Chair of the Army Science Board), John Petersen (President of The Arlington Institute) and Margaret Wheatley (author of Leadership and the New Science).

The 24-hour event was a futuristic brainstorming. Consensus on ideas did not occur, nor was it asked for. However, out of the plethora of thoughts focused on unknown-unknowns emerged a series of patterns. The first pattern was an extension of what we see today in the Information Technology world, indicating that as the Department of the Navy moves from an information-centric enterprise to a knowledge-centric enterprise, specific information technologies will rise and wane-rise and wane as the world continues to discover and bring into reality better and better products.

The second pattern indicated that both the efficiency and effectiveness of information management (IM) and knowledge management (KM) will steadily increase as new products emerge and their full potential is realized. The third pattern - of specific interest to this paper - reflects a rapid increase in the need for new skills and capabilities to handle the unknown-unknowns of tomorrow's knowledge world. These skills and capabilities, utilizing data, information and imagination to bring about "value transformation," were described with terms such as intuiting, integrating, innovating, designing, sensing, scanning, patterning, synthesizing, judging, storytelling, persuading, and knowing.

Through a series of small focus groups, these terms were further explored for their potential to add to the warfighting capability. A heuristic for understanding the concept of "knowing" quickly emerged. Knowing is: seeing beyond images; hearing beyond words; and sensing beyond appearances. But significant work remained to flush out the capabilities and skills that could improve our individual sense of "knowing" and to build a program that would make these new capabilities available to the warfighter.

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Proceed to "Developing Knowing"