A Reflection on the Personal Theories of Power: The Power of Motivation and Relationships

This essay is part of the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint Bridge-CIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.


When Rich Ganske first mentioned the idea of writing about personal theories of power, I wasn’t immediately on board. I viewed it as a lot of work for a few posts, mostly done by friends who would provide content out of loyalty. I could not have been more wrong. With Rich heading the concept, we quickly sketched out some possible topics people could cover. Air power and land power, of course…we could each cover those. We then started thinking about others that tended to inhabit the blogosphere and might be willing to produce some interesting ideas. We knew more than a few eloquent navalists, so sea power would be covered. They also provided us with a valuable link to another great blogging organization, the Center for International Maritime Security, which agreed to cross-post the articles, opening up another avenue to a well-informed audience. With the domains largely addressed, we then took a different tact; we came up with writers first, allowing them to develop their own topics…ending up with 16 possible posts. We expected to actually deliver 4-5 by the short deadline provided. Fourteen arrived for publication, including:

And for those that are counting, Rich Ganske did provide 3 posts for this series (including his opening)…he was that committed. While the quantity of the posts was truly unexpected, the quality was what impressed me. The authors truly took the time to think through their desired topics and addressed their views on them. It probably didn’t hurt that the authors were either in the midst of studying the topic or immersed in it from day to day.

What really made this project a success, at least in my mind, was the obvious enthusiasm and professionalism the participants displayed. How many people do you know would volunteer time out of their already busy schedules to study, write, edit, and format a piece on theory? How many people do you know would find not only value in such a pursuit, but be excited about it? Are these people you already know? Could you call them out of the blue and make such a request?

Leveraging relationships, and even loose ties, is not new when it comes to accomplishing intellectual tasks. Last year an organization, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, was created to leverage just such relationships to benefit our military services and those that serve in them. In a post-event article, a few of the founding members addressed the topic of informal networks and their worth:

One solution [to the obstacles of creating] is to form informal networks outside formal organizational structures in which innovative thinking can occur. That can be as simple as a few friends drawing sketches on bar napkins or trying new tactics, techniques, and procedures on the training range. Over time, these ad hoc networks can push ideas back into formal channels. Military journals provide formalized but still peripheral networks in which innovators can inject fresh thinking into the mainstream.
Sometimes these ad hoc networks take on a life of their own, relentlessly pushing new thinking on a stale organization. In some cases, the organization eventually recognizes their value and draws them in. Such was the case with the German General Gerhard von Scharnhorst, who was eventually entrusted with reforming the Prussian military after the disastrous battle at Jena. In addition to creating the professional military staff, Scharnhorst and his network acquainted the world with a promising Prussian officer named Carl von Clausewitz. In other cases, these networks of “Young Turks” are less welcome. Billy Mitchell was ultimately court-martialed for his intemperate advocacy of airpower in the interwar years. Fortunately for his fellow airmen, the development of airpower theory was able to continue through the 1930s in the Air Corps Tactical School, a formal structure that nonetheless had enough autonomy to stay under the radar. Although airpower still faced a painful learning curve in World War II, the pre-war activities of these loyal dissidents laid the groundwork for airpower to develop into a finely honed instrument of war.

The same is true of our personal theories; others may have previously addressed all of the topics we published in this series…and in far greater detail than the 1,500 words with which I constrained our authors. However, the value of each of us delving into our own personal views is that it starts a conversation…and by doing so, it creates more relationships to sharpen the theory, improve the argument, and hopefully strengthen the ability for application.

Based on the feedback I’ve received so far for many of the posts, that conversation is happening. Relationships are being built. Others are being encouraged to write their own theories, or reactions to those they’ve read. In the coming days you’ll see a few of those posts; I hope they continue to drive the conversation and build even more relationships.

In addition to the great output provided by the authors, The Bridge was lucky to not only have the intellectual drive provided by Rich Ganske for this project, but the encouragement and advice of Mikhail Grinberg, as well as the technical copy editing skills of Tim Wolfe. Without the work of many people, this series could not have occurred. If you’d like to join us on The Bridge, we’re simply a note away.


Nathan K. Finney is an officer in the U.S. Army. He is also the founder and Managing Director of the Military Fellowship at the Project on International Peace & Security, the founder and editor of The Bridge, a member of the Infinity Journal's Editorial Advisory Board, a founding board member of theDefense Entrepreneurs Forum, a founding member of the Military Writers Guild, a term member at theCouncil on Foreign Relations, a Non-Resident Fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point, and a PhD candidate in history at the University of Kansas.  Nathan holds masters degrees in Public Administration from Harvard University and the University of Kansas, as well as a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona.  He tweets at @NKFinney.


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Header Image: Found on Grounded Curiosity (Clare O'Neill)