Monday, June 3, 2013

Capabilities & Intentions

Whether I'm talking about delivering medical care to you or the whole nation, sizing up a policy initiative for a city council member, talking to a detective or the U.S. Attorney about a criminal conspiracy, or the CIA or the DoD planning a strategic geopolitical campaign, it all comes down to those two words: capabilities and intentions. Mine, and the opposition's.

What do I want to do?
What can I do?

What does my opponent want?
What can he/they do about that?

(What you don't or can't know is the area covered by the Fog Of War.)

The way to success starts and ends there. Or failure, if it's ignored.
You have to know yourself, know what you want to do, and what you're capable of.
And either influence what someone else wants, or what they do, along a range from gentle persuasion to global thermonuclear war.

Like tic-tac-toe, the results never vary, but unlike that game, there aren't any draws.
You either succeed, or you fail.

All efforts on your part should thus be geared towards improving what you can do, which improves the range of capabilities you possess; or of bringing others' intentions or capabilities into line with your goals, or thwarting them when that can't be accomplished.

If you're a young single guy, you want to persuade the hot chick to perceive you as desirable, and display the capabilities she thinks are important, whether that's supplying a lobster dinner, dancing, and tickets to the hot rock band, or graduating medical school and buying a mansion on the cliffs by the shore, and sending your offspring to college. (It helps if you actually have all that going on, and share a lot of perceptions in common, but lacking everything isn't an absolute handicap to ultimate success, as any visit to the tabloids or the mall will attest. No wedding in history has failed to provide at least one dubious father in law, one shocked mother in law, or at least one astonished onlooker.)

If you're trying to reach a deal, you want to gather as much support as possible, until you've won your position, and/or convince the other side that you're the side to come to, or prevent them from getting their way until you can either convince them, or steamroll them.

A chief of police, ideally, doesn't want to catch all the crooks. First of all, he wants as many people as possible not to become crooks in the first place. So he sets out to make his side look formidable, and the penalties for crossing the law certain, swift, and unappealing. He knows there will always be those who'll either be too stupid to listen, or determined enough to cross him. Those are the ones who get more specialized attention. But he knows resources aren't limitless, because he knows his own capabilities, and does what he can. This is why city-wide riots succeed, but crime families don't.

On a much larger level, people who play the game undid communism. They knew that the intention was total subjugation of everyone to the organs of the state (and I mean that any way you care to understand "organs"; what the state planned to do to people is little different than what rapists want, practically.) But people who paid attention to what is, instead of what they wished, knew that the communists weren't capable of running everything and everyone, and that they didn't know what they didn't know. Wanting to rule the world isn't a matter of ambition, or even force of arms, but the reality that none of us is able to outsmart all of us. And so, the jacktards failed, despite desperately struggling against reality for most of two generations, and great was the fall thereof.

You can even take this to the realm of forces of nature, because for "intentions", you can substitute the laws of nature and physical tendencies. Tornadoes, for instance, can happen anywhere, and do; but they're lot more likely to move from southwest to northeast in Tornado Alley. Hurricanes are far more likely on the east coast from June through November than any likelihood that a Cat V will come storming across Lake Superior in February and lay waste to Green Bay.

But you have to know what you know, what you want, and what you can do about it, and you have to know what the other side wants, knows how to do, and can actually accomplish.
And then you have to improve your position, and persuade, undermine, or thwart theirs, and you win.

It doesn't matter if you're trying to grow carrots and keep the rabbits out, or grow a civilization by stopping the Mongolian hordes from invading China by building the Great Wall. Capabilities and Intentions is the blueprint for success. Learn it, love it, and live it.

1 comment:

Kevin R.C. O'Brien said...

Interesting. In my current gig we use a proprietary methodology, which broadly explained conducts descriptive, capability, and predictive analysis in that order. (There are actually ways they overlap).

You would be surprised how many times leaders in industry and government are alarmed by perceived counterparty intentions that are beyond the counterparties' capabilities. Sometimes the counterparties don't know this and are cruisin' for a bruisin'. Sometimes, though, the read of intentions is wrong.

"A man's gotta know his limitations," as a movie character of bygone days sagaciously told us.