Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reading Deeper with CNO

By Bill Doughty

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson's reading list is online, and it offers an opportunity to dive deep into a sea of history, heritage, strategic thinking and practical advice for sailors and civilians interested in seapower and national defense.

Published several weeks ago and maintained by the Naval War College, the list includes about 150 titles for the revived Navy Professional Reading Program and includes a core "Canon" of books that provide thought-provoking insights for leaders and communicators.

Titles in The Canon include: Handel's "Masters of War," Hart's "Strategy," Madison's "The Constitution," Jefferson's "The Declaration of Independence," Sun Tzu's "Art of War," and Richardson's "Navy Leader Development Framework," among others. "Framework" includes a great quote from President John F. Kennedy: "Learning and leadership are indispensable to each other." Read to lead.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.

Last year in Proceedings magazine, Richardson promised this updated reading list. And he has delivered on that promise.

"Reading can teach us the fundamentals of our business. Thucydides, Clausewitz, Mahan, Corbett . . . these masters wrote works of the highest quality that have stood the test of time. As the challenges the naval service faces have multiplied, knowledge required to meet those challenges has also grown. This means that I cannot possibly dictate a comprehensive list of 'the' books to read. Still, I will soon share with you what I consider to be a canon of classic works. I am also thinking of ways I can highlight other books that I have found interesting because they helped me to think through a problem or see things differently. I will make it easy to obtain these books through an e-book program that can be easily accessed through your personal electronic devices. Finally, I will open up a way for all of us to talk about what we are reading."

The CNO outlined his plans in that article, written with Lt. Ashley O'Keefe, which resonates in his Design for Maritime Superiority. Richardson notes that warfare requires sharp thinking and the ability to adapt.
FN Matt Baumgardt reads aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69)
last April.  (Photo by MC3 Taylor Jackson)
"Usually, the team that can think better and adapt faster will win. Today, as we prepare for operations and war with an increasingly complex set of potential adversaries, we must do more to sharpen our thinking, learn the lessons from history, and expand our minds. The margins of victory will be razor-thin—we cannot be complacent. What we do in peace will be decisive in war."
"I want to revitalize the intellectual debate in our Navy. We all—officers, enlisted, and civilians—need to develop sound and long-term habits for reading and writing during the entire course of our careers. We must challenge our own assumptions, be informed by the facts, and be aware of the current context. We must commit to self-improvement, through formal schools and courses, and especially through self-education. I strongly encourage you to read, think, and write about our naval profession. Our Navy benefits from a vigorous intellectual debate."

Lt. j.g. Shelby Naughton of USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), reads a book to a Timorese child 
during Pacific Partnership 2016. (Photo by MC3 Trevor Kohlrus)
The 150 titles in the new Navy Professional Reading Program are categorized in The Canon, Core Attributes, Naval Power, Fast Learning, Navy Team and Partnerships and include authors such as Kaplan, Stavridis, Winchester, Toll, Daughn, Hornfischer, Morison, Carlson, Singer, Leavitt and Gladwell. One criticism of the choices offered so far: a dearth of women authors. 

But the commitment to provide e-book availability is noteworthy. And for the first time we see movies, series and documentaries recommended, including "Saving Private Ryan," "Band of Brothers," "Zulu," "Black Hawk Down," "John Adams," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Eye in the Sky," which stars Helen Mirren: "Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare."
CNO Richardson values reading professional journals as well as books. And he encourages online discourse.
CNO Adm. Richardson speaks with Sailors in Pearl Harbor in 2015.
(Photo by MC2 Jeff Troutman)
"...more recently, online blogs, have hosted professional conversations. Thoughtful, well-researched articles can offer useful insights and, when needed, can help us change our minds," he writes – as he encourages his sailors to write.

"As reading leads to broader thinking, writing leads to clearer thinking. If you have not written much, I urge you to get started. A sharp pen reflects a sharp mind. But writing is not for the weak. The writer must form and then expose his or her ideas to public scrutiny. That takes confidence. But an argument properly conceived and defended can be of great value to our profession."

"It is not my purpose to offer writing lessons," Richardson says, "but in my experience, simple is better. Avoid acronyms or code. Be clear and concise. Keep in mind Mark Twain’s warning, 'The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.'”

He also recommends Zinsser's "On Writing Well," a Navy Reads favorite and a book recommended by former Chief of Navy Information Rear Adm. (ret.) John Kirby.

So, dive deep into reading and writing.

And in our humble opinion, books offer the deepest dives into insight and wisdom.
"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance." – Confucius
Bill Dawson, the last surviving member of the first Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) shows CNO Adm. John Richardson a copy of "Before they were SEALs they were Frogs" during Navy appreciation night at Nationals Park last May. Photo by MC1 Nathan Laird.

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