#Monday Musings: Ray Kimball

"Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.

1. Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?

It's less a matter of a "who" than of "what." Living overseas as a teenager for four years impacted me in ways I'm only now beginning to understand. I was an Army brat living in Germany during the waning years of the Cold War, when we still had a very substantial US military presence there. That gave me sufficient resources and infrastructure to fall back on while going out and pushing my horizons. Getting to take school and family trips to the UK, France, Hungary, Italy, Spain, and the then-eastern Bloc states of East Germany, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union gave me perspectives on other cultures at a time when I was still coming to understand my own. It gives you an appreciation for the positive elements of your country while heightening your sense of its shortcomings. I think G.K. Chesterton's quote sums it up well: “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’” Also, learning another language via immersion at a young age was enormously valuable to me. It has shaped both my choice to study Russian language and history and my preference for dabbling in European and NATO policy. But learning the syntax and grammar of another language is also a tremendous tool for improving your writing, as it make you so much more aware of the rules of your native tongue.

2. What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?

As a recovering Army Strategist, I'm supposed to answer this question with something from the Sacred Canon: Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, or Thucydides, among select others. But so help me God, the series of books that most impacts my approach to strategy is the late Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. His gleefully anarchic approach to Life, The Universe, and Everything is an antidote to my strong preference for predictive, orderly outcomes that may not be possible in the real world. Adams' work is a prod toward not taking yourself too seriously, even when you're President of the Galaxy. And it's a healthy reminder that decisions which make perfect sense at the time, like turning a pair of nuclear missiles into a sperm whale and a flower pot, can have radically unintended second- and third-order consequences.

3. What do you want your legacy to be?

Professionally, I hope to continue the incredible work started by the original founders of the CompanyCommand and PlatoonLeader professional forums. I'm tremendously excited about taking the reins at the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning at West Point this summer and what the future holds there. The larger online professional space now is so different from what it was when the forums were first created; there are some amazing opportunities ahead for finding new and innovative ways for junior officers to connect in conversation with one another about the profession. Tony Burgess, Nate Allen, and Pete Kilner taught me to always think first about what a "home run" would look like, and I think it's the same as the original vision of the founders: every company-level leader in the Army connected in a vibrant conversation about building combat-ready and capable teams.

Personally, I'm incredibly excited by the response I've gotten to my research and writing about Army officer mentoring and the chord that it's struck with some people I admire. I bin this into the personal rather than professional category because I truly believe that the future of Army mentoring does not reside in institutional programs. It's in personal outreach that empowers leaders to support mentoring at their level, meeting the needs of their subordinates regardless of gender, socio-economic structure, and all of the other things that shouldn't get in the way of professional development, but do. Anything I can do to further that empowerment is a legacy I can be proud of.

Ray Kimball is a member of the Military Writers Guild who delights in straying from the beaten career path. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government...or the Grand Imperium.

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