Monday, April 27, 2009

Project Bedbug

Back to the 'Tunnels of Cu Chi', I find this project hard to believe. Thought up by the Limited Warfare Laboratory (LWL) the idea was to carry a box full of bedbugs as they could smell human flesh and would let out a yowl of excitement. This yowl could be measured and it could warn against ambush attacks.

"The project collapsed when it was discovered that the bedbugs couldn't control their excitement. They became so deliriously happy at just being carried about by GIs that they were too busy 'swooning with delight' to warn their patrons of any approaching Communist ambush."


Friday, April 17, 2009


To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

From An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman.
p. 40 Ch. 1, Sct. 1.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The tunnels of Cu Chi

A few weeks ago I managed to pick up a copy of 'The tunnels of Cu Chi' by Tom Mangold and John Penycate. It is the story of how the tunnels were created by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

There were approximately 300 miles of tunnels beneath Vietnam that were created during the French war of independence. The tunnels created a unique method of warfare. A Viet Cong could get out of a tunnel fire and then disappear back into the tunnel. They even had tunnels that had trap doors inside US compounds - so that they could jump out at night, shoot at will and then disappear!

In the words of Lieutenant Nguyen Thanh Linh:

"There were no set battles, but everyone who could fire a rifle did so. We used them for constant surprise sniper attacks, and we used them, most importantly, for observation. Thanks to the tunnels, we could remain with the Americans, see how their troops behaved and reacted, watch their mistakes."

The Americans went to war trained for set-piece confrontations, they were confused and demoralised by the way the enemy appeared and disappeared. This seems to be a classic example of 'single loop thinking'. They went prepared with one solution but the method of warfare was not prepared for the unique nature of the tunnels. If they looked back in their history it was guerilla warfare that they used to gain independence from the British. They had not thought deeply enough about the problem they were presented with.

As they discovered the tunnels, they had no idea how to fight against them. They used smoke to reveal trap-door exits but there were times when American lives were lost when the smoke they used suffocated the soldiers going down to fight the Viet Cong.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Double Loop thinking

I have been reading 'Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics' by Ralph Stacey and again he has written about something that is so completely obvious that it has to be right.

Double Loop thinking is the idea that we have to take a double loop with all the decisions we make. The world is dominated by 'single loop thinking' ie what has happened before will obviously happen again. So if you are expert, one solution is all you need for no matter how many problems you come across. This is how we risk 'skilled incompetence' because we ignore change and eventually the consequences of a 'single solution' build up into a severe backlash - such as the financial crisis we have at the moment. For too long we have solved our financial problems with one simple answer - ignoring any danger signals and ignoring sources of fundamental change. So much change that single loop thinking becomes extremely dangerous.

Double Loop thinking means that we not only adjust actions to consequences but we also question and adjust the mental model that produced those actions in the first place because change is constant and one solution that worked in the past may produce a result in the short term but may have long term negative consequences because we have not examined the fundamental unconscious mental model - the reason the problem occurred in the first place.

This is why we have so many problems in society, we think we can use solutions that worked 10 years ago today when too much change has occurred and it does not work. We need more thought about what is happening and why. Sadly deep thinking about problems does not seem to be important.

Single Loop thinking is 'lazy' thinking, it was first proposed by Argyris and Schon (1978).

I have written about this before - see the following post - Easter 1940