In this post, our first serving Australian Army contributor — Captain David Caligari — argues collaboration across the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is imperative if we are to have the edge to fight and win future conflicts. Collaboration is built into our people — can we harness the potential this offers?

The barriers to start a new crowd-powered service are low and getting lower. A hive mind scales up wonderfully smoothly.

Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable

Our ability to fight and win in a complex world depends on our people. More, in the 21st century, winning will depend on these people collaborating. The ADF must embrace a philosophy of collaboration. This means: collaborating to develop knowledge; collaborating to share and network that knowledge; and collaborating to constantly update and innovate with that knowledge. In short, the ADF must strive to create a Joint “Body of Knowledge”—a shared virtual reservoir of expert knowledge that is the edge to fight and win.

The knowledge edge

The future operating environment will be dynamic and require innovation to disrupt adversary actions. This disruption will not be determined by the presence of Joint Strike Fighters or advanced submarines, but by the ADF’s ability to ‘crowd-power’ knowledge and wield it to out-innovate the adversary.

The ADF is not alone in this challenge. Knowledge is the lifeblood of organisations participating in the digital economy. For these organisations, their knowledge edge is their intellectual property. For the ADF, our knowledge edge will be obtained through the ability to share, access, and adapt the accumulated knowledge of our people.

Australian Army innovation – Cyber security training

The Joint Body of Knowledge is the ADF’s digital memory. It is the repository of all the organisation’s documented information—including standard operating procedures, doctrine, and other information—hosted by an information management system. The software used for this system doesn’t matter; it could take many forms. However, the optimal information management system will be accessible, searchable, and manipulable. It will enable wide input, and fully leverage the ADF’s ‘hive mind’ so that its content is continually updated, and can be stewarded to indisputable accuracy.

Tipping point

The world is rushing towards information decentralisation and sharing—a trend Kevin Kelly argues was previously impossible due to technological constraints. The ADF is learning to engage with modern technologies enabled by information decentralisation. These modern technologies include the internet, before which there was no way to coordinate a million people in real time or to bring thousands of workers together to collaborate on projects.

The ADF’s own mini-internet—our intranet—now holds the power to bring together our collective brainpower. The ADF is the crowd, or ‘hive mind’, that can be harnessed to develop, refine, and define the future direction of our organisation.

The ADF is primed to embrace collaboration. The ADF’s people live in a world of sharing: whether it be what we are thinking (Twitter), what we are reading (StumbleUpon), our finances (Motley Fool), our social lives (Facebook), shopping (eBay), or going anywhere (TripAdvisor), sharing is becoming the foundation of modern life and culture. As the Ryan Report states, the majority of ADF personnel are “Gen Y”—digital natives who never knew a time before the age of the internet and the smartphone.

In this sense, the difficult job has been done: the ADF’s workforce is positioned for change. As Major General Gus MacLachlan identified in his Command and Leadership Philosophy: “we sit in a world in which most of the Army’s soldiers [Air Force’s airmen, and Navy’s sailors] are familiar with the world’s largest car company [Uber] owning no cars… The game has changed.”

Next gen professionals

It is well-known that to remain relevant on the global war fighting stage, the ADF must be innovative. Correctly developed, the Joint Body of Knowledge will provide the launch point for innovation. As Brigadier Chris Field asserted in a recent article, improving collaboration is in fact the foundation of innovation. Collaboration is best done in the digital space. A digital Joint Body of Knowledge allows the basic skills, knowledge and attributes developed by individuals in training to become knowledge which can be accessed and critiqued by all. ADF personnel who learn to fire a weapon, steer a ship, or perform diagnostics on an airframe can use technology to contribute their expertise to the Joint Body of Knowledge. Each small contribution sharpens the knowledge edge needed to out-innovate the adversary.

Conclusion

The contemporary ADF serviceperson is built for collaboration. The ADF workforce is a hive mind which, in Kevin Kelly’s words, is decentralised power that is “fast, cheap, and out of control”. Modern sailors, soldiers, and airmen also have available intellectual capacity. They are giving to Twitter, Facebook, and TripAdvisor what they could be giving to developing operations within an Air Operations Centre, or helping to determine the size of the future infantry section. This capacity must be harnessed if the ADF is to remain competitive. Otherwise, we will fail to have the knowledge edge needed to fight and win the next battle for the sea, land, air, space, or cyber domain.

Captain David Caligari is the Training Officer, Depot Company at the Australian Army School of Infantry. He would like to acknowledge his collaboration with Katherine Mansted, which has informed the perspectives shared in this piece. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the Australian Army, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.