Americans Must Learn Again to Make the Future, Not Fear It

For some, the future is terra incognita, foreign land that we cannot know until we arrive there — or rather, until it arrives here. But that’s not quite right, is it? Because while you can’t predict the future, you can catch glimpses of it right here in the present if you know where to look.

Optimists like to imagine a future in which today’s problems, difficult as they are, have been solved — and maybe we finally get our flying cars. …

Growing Competition and an Abundance of Information Negates the IC’s Founding Value Proposition

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The U.S Intelligence Community needs a new business model, one that’s better suited for an era inundated with useful information and characterized by the demand for radical transparency. The next generation of national security leaders will, quite simply, expect more — more personalization, more collaboration, and more convenience.

Intelligence officers will likely bristle at the metaphor — intelligence isn’t a business, after all. But borrowing a few concepts from the private sector can help intelligence leaders better understand the successive waves of disruption that are right now undermining the very foundations of their vital institution.

Business models are stories about…

How to Think About the Future, Part III

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“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed. William Gibson

In the introduction to this series, I described how the future is created by a continuous interplay between forces of continuity and forces of change. ‘Forces’ may sound mysterious, but that’s really just a word I use as a catchall for the underlying factors — whether social, economic, technological, or ecological — that encourage or discourage behavior in people — that is, in us.

Although the world is changing constantly, the status quo has its own inertia. That inertia is sufficient, usually, to prevent all that…

How to Think About the Future, Part II

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov

We all make assumptions.

We do so automatically, even unconsciously. Assumptions are the premises that we hold to be true, often without much evidence. Moreover, they’re the premises that we expect to remain true. We make big assumptions and little assumptions, benign assumptions, and potentially dangerous assumptions. Each time we make a judgment without complete information — which is practically every single time— we buttress those judgments with one or more underlying assumptions. Some of…

No one can predict the future. But you can catch glimpses of it right here in the present if you know where to look.

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“We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.”

Charles F. Kettering

Some people see the future as a foreign land. For them, it is terra incognita, a place we can never know until we arrive there — or rather until it arrives here. Idealists are more sanguine about the future. They imagine it as a place where today’s problems have been resolved, and maybe we all have flying cars. …

European leaders misjudged World War I. America shouldn’t repeat their mistake

Virginia Woolf famously observed that sometime in the first decade of the 20th century — she arbitrarily chose December 1910 — human life was fundamentally transformed. That date is near the culmination of what Barbara Tuchman called a “century of the most accelerated rate of change in man’s record.” Tuchman was describing the somatic effects of the Industrial Revolution, Woolf the psychological changes in society that those effects drove.

What Woolf sensed and Tuchman saw, however, was something the political leaders of the time largely missed. Heads of state, foreign ministers, and chiefs of army staffs failed to appreciate the…

Re-examining the Intelligence Debate of 1949

There’s little the United States intelligence community holds more sacred than the teachings of Sherman Kent. Widely considered the “father” of American intelligence, his stamp upon the profession is indelible. His name is practically synonymous with both the craft of analysis and the standard model of intelligence-policy relations. His book Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy remains “the text by which succeeding generations of fledgling analysts [are] schooled, a book that studs the footnotes of those that followed.”

But what if he was wrong?

What if the assumptions Kent’s model of intelligence was built upon are no longer sound? What…

The United States Needs a New Strategic Mindset

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The United States hasn’t had a coherent strategic vision for a generation, and it shows. The absence of an overarching strategic concept has produced little but short-sighted moves that have left the country less secure, less prosperous, and less relevant.

President Donald Trump has made a string of abrupt decisions — banning TikTok, withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organization, and cutting American forces in Germany, are only the most recent examples. …

The United States Tried to Make Iraq in its Own Image but Was Changed Itself in the Process

image courtesy

Americans have been horrified by images of nameless, faceless paramilitary operatives stalking their streets. These men have employed illegitimate force against peaceful protestors — pepper-spraying a Vietnam veteran, shooting a man in the face with “non-lethal” munitions, and snatching citizens off the streets, tossing them into the back of unmarked vans. And while a judge will decide if these actions were lawful, we don’t need a court to tell us that they’re reprehensible.

Watching these events unfold, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the year and a half I spent in Baghdad during the war. At the height of…

Complexity Drives the World, You Should Understand It

Photo Owned by Author via iStock
Photo Owned by Author via iStock

“Ideas thus made up of several simple ones put together, I call Complex; such as are: Beauty, Gratitude, a Man, an Army, the Universe.”

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

In the late summer of 2010, clouds of yellow-brown smoke wafted across the grim Muscovite sky, obscuring the Kremlin in a haze that was so thick eyewitnesses said it could be worn like a coat. During particularly hot Russian summers, peat bogs sometimes catch fire and billow turbid fumes across the East European plain. That year, the heat was particularly severe. …

Zachery Tyson Brown

A strategic futurist contemplating the intersection of national security, defense, and disruptive technologies with empathy, skepticism, and hopefully, insight.

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