Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thought Ballistics - The Art of the Long View

Review by Bill Doughty

Futurist Peter Schwartz uses “thought ballistics” to hit the target in his now-classic book on understanding global strategic change.

In The Art of the Long View, he shows that everyone has an innate ability to build scenarios -- stories to explain and understand the future. Research shows that the part of brain that controls speech is the same involved in ballistics -- the ability of our distant ancestors to hit small animals with a rock, spear or arrow. A good quarterback (think Joe Montana, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning) has an extraordinary ability to look ahead down field -- to read the future -- in order to hit his receiver with the ball.

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees, on target.

Scenarios are “what if?” thoughts about the future that can help governments, businesses and militaries -- society in general -- make strategic decisions that are good for all possible futures, says Schwartz, whose book is recommended in the original Navy Professional Reading List.

The author, in turn, recommends or discusses a variety of books throughout The Art of the Long View, including:

The Ascent of Mind by William Calvin

On Thermonuclear War: Thinking About the Unthinkable by Herman Kahn

On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

American Myth, American Reality by James Robertson

The End of Work by Jeremy Rivkin

The Population Explosion by Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich

The Art of the Long View is a business/history/philosophy/self-help/roadmap for thinking about the future as compelling in 2010 as it was twenty years ago when it was written.

Schwartz provides comprehensive endnotes, a “scenario planning select bibliography” and a detailed index.

His perspective is business and economics and, like Freakonomics, his perspective is futuristic, synergistic and out-of-the-box thinking, using neurobiology to explain why we sometimes act the way we do.

The idea of speed and language as ballistics is compelling.

Schwartz shows how thinkers and planners can miss a target when their scenarios are hobbled by denial or a lack of imagination in examining consequences.

He says leaders failed to imagine victory after the Cold War. What now? “What if we won?” More than 10 years before 9/11 and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he wrote:

“The new military to cope with the Saddam Husseins of today and tomorrow will be very different from the military needed to contain a hostile superpower.”

Reading The Art of the Long View in the 20/20 hindsight of post-9/11/2001 revealed shadows of things to come. Futurist Schwartz came close to predicting the terrorism that would happen in the beginning of the 21st century.

He acknowledges in his epilogue the seeds of “a deep mutual misreading between Islam and the Christian world” that pose enormous demands upon the world for mutual understanding. And, he says, “The conflicts do not have to be duels to the death.”

Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden and his ilk didn’t get that notice.

In terms of ballistics, those who believe in fomenting fear, hate and terror are off target in today’s world. Some whould argue that, especially in the case of radical Islamists, that’s the reason they are the target.

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