On Military Creativity

By Vego, Milan | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2013 | Go to article overview

On Military Creativity


Vego, Milan, Joint Force Quarterly


In the public mind, creativity is usually associated with the works of the famous painters, sculptors, musicians, philosophers, and scientists, but not of those in the military. Yet the success in a military domain in both peacetime and in war is hardly possible without considerable creativity on the part of the military institutions as whole and the commanders and their staffs at all levels. War is largely an art, not a science. Hence, it is inherent that military commanders and their staffs must be highly creative in planning, preparing, and employing their forces for combat. While technological innovations should never be neglected, focus should be clearly on those aspects of creativity most directly related to leadership. That is where the outcomes of military actions were determined in the past and it is where they will be determined in the future.

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What Is Creativity?

Creativity is perhaps one of the most significant but least understood areas of human endeavor. (1) A great deal has been written about what constitutes creativity, but no theory is completely accepted. One reason is that different fields of knowledge require different factors in combination. (2) Creativity can be defined as one's ability to bring something new into existence--to generate novel ideas that are valued by others. (3) It involves one's ability to properly evaluate and present already existing ideas or processes in a different way.

In general, to be creative and novel, a product or the idea behind it must transcend previous concepts or views. A creative product should have a high intrinsic value due to its essential originality and uniqueness. (4) Originality is generally defined as any response or behavior on the part of the individual that is atypical or unusual. (5) A creative idea must be useful and satisfy some need. (6) Uniqueness means that a certain idea or a product contains characteristics having nothing alike or equal in existence. (7) A person could have an idea that is unique for him but in fact might be very common. The final result must be something new and uncommon in relation to a particular problem being studied. (8)

Military Environment

The military is a unique profession. It is characterized by the commitment of its members to unlimited service, extending to the risk of life itself. As in no other organization, the military trains its members to perform tasks they hope will never need to be performed. (9) It has a strong sense of group identity, and its highly specialized missions and functions have led to a culture that is vastly distinct from society as a whole. A military culture is defined as the sum of intellectual, professional, and traditional values possessed by an officer corps. (10)

In contrast to their civilian counterparts, military artists must work within a rather narrow framework and are subject to numerous rules and regulations that must be factored in. All organizations, and the military in particular, tend to be wasteful. They are also subjected to various pressures, both external and internal. These pressures tend to reduce potential leaders to mediocrity. (11) Military culture is generally not conducive to finding a drastic solution to some new challenge. It tends rather either to resist any changes or, in the best case, slightly modify the existing situation.

The main obstacles to military creativity are posed by the military's inherent hierarchical command structure--an authoritarian, bureaucratized system--and its thinking, which is exemplified by conformity, groupthink, parochialism, dogmatism, intolerance, and anti-intellectualism. The military is a highly stratified organization, and its leaders require prompt and unquestioning obedience and execution of orders. Leaders are usually selected without consultation with subordinates. The peacetime environment encourages breeding of officers who rigidly follow rules. …

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