community, culture

Army training the open source way

Very cool article in the New York Times yesterday entitled Care to Write Army Doctrine? With an ID, Log On.

Pvt. Winger sez let's open source ARMY TRAINING, SIR!

Pvt. Winger sez let's open source ARMY TRAINING, SIR!

The gist is the Army is running an experiment in mass participation, allowing any member of the Army, from five star general to latrine specialist, to edit a test group of seven Army field manuals using an online wiki. From the article:

“For a couple hundred years, the Army has been writing doctrine in a particular way, and for a couple months, we have been doing it online in this wiki,” said Col. Charles J. Burnett, the director of the Army’s Battle Command Knowledge System. “The only ones who could write doctrine were the select few. Now, imagine the challenge in accepting that anybody can go on the wiki and make a change — that is a big challenge, culturally.”

It sounds like the reaction within the Army has been all across the map, some viewing it as an extremely progressive step forward to others thinking the idea is totally crazy. But top Army leadership appears to be behind the idea. Again from the article:

The idea has support at the highest ranks. Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., wrote on the center’s blog on July 1, that “by embracing technology, the Army can save money, break down barriers, streamline processes and build a bright future.”

Here at Dark Matter Matters, we give this idea a huge +1. The army is employing some of the same principles we open source folks have employed to great success. A few key parts of the open source way applied here:

  • Meritocracy: The best ideas have a chance to win, wherever they come from. Rather than a few folks deep inside the Pentagon figuring out what works, let ideas come from the people with the best ideas, not just the highest rank.
  • Transparency: When you open the “source code” (in this case the manual content itself) to your users they can help you build a better, more useful, project faster.
  • Collaboration: The old Linus Torvalds adage “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” By having people who are actually deployed out in the field contributing to the manuals, the Army may be able to change some policies that are failing in the field by giving power to change them to people who have experienced the effect of the policy in real life.

We’ve used these principles within Red Hat to build the S&P 500 company that you see today, and I truly think these concepts will be at the core of the defining companies of the 21st century. Ask Gary Hamel. Ask James Surowiecki. Ask the Wikinomics guys.

But beyond simply the defining companies of the 21st century, I’m totally excited to see real examples like this of open source principles applied in government as well. I’ll continue to point them out as I see ’em. And if you see examples you’d like to share, feel free to post them below!

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.



  1. Pingback: Army training the open source way « The Android Life - August 15, 2009

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