The Army has just announced something that I consider a major breakthrough for the way the military does business: they are putting several field manuals online in wiki format and allowing anybody with an AKO account to propose changes. Manuals that have a 3-to-5 year writing and updating timeline could soon become living, organic documents that harness the brainpower of every soldier in the Army willing to contribute. The pilot program includes 7 manuals, but over 200 are scheduled to go online eventually. I’ve already raved more than once about Lt General Caldwell on this blog (commanding general of the Combined Arms Center), but now he’s officially on my hero list. This is a big, gutsy move that I think will bring immense benefit to the Army.
General Caldwell gets it. When another government agency creates a Facebook page or starts twittering, I’m not impressed; it only shows me how far behind the times these organizations are and that they don’t fully understand the technology. Facebook and Twitter aren’t about delivering the same old message in a new medium; they’re about community. Their power is not in the technology, but in the people who use that technology to knit themselves into purposeful communities. General Caldwell appears to understand that social dynamic. He didn’t merely start a blog for the Combined Arms Center; he has tried to create an organizational culture that encourages every soldier to engage with new media. Now, with the advent of wiki field manuals, Caldwell is harnessing crowdsourcing technology to achieve something extremely valuable: giving every soldier a voice, ensuring the best ideas rise to the top, and ensuring that every soldier enters the field with the most up-to-date tactics and procedures available.
I can’t have a post praising the Army without picking on my colleagues in the Air Force. Why didn’t we do this first? We’re supposedly on the cutting edge of technology and fly, fight and win in air, space, and cyberspace. We’ve been busy trying to figure out our cyber mission. We’re looking for ways to make ourselves more relevant in counterinsurgency environments. So why aren’t we doing stuff like this? While we’re busy arguing with our Secretary of Defense about how many F-22s to build and trying to stop airmen from reading blogs, our brethren on the ground are creating one innovation after another. I’m embarrassed–but I’m also excited for the Army, and hope that the Air Force will steal the idea.