The Biggest Obstacle to Tactical Progress… and How to Beat It

In our opinion, the biggest obstacle to tactical progress is the fact that when tactical professionals get together to train or share ideas, they often waste most of their time arguing with each other and have little to show for it at the end of the day. We would imagine that almost every tactical professional has experienced this frustrating scenario. We have seen entire days wasted at the range or shoothouse because nobody can agree on the best way to stack on the door, how to hold the gun or how to throw a flashbang. With the threat level rising both at home and overseas, wasting precious training time and failing to make progress as an individual or a unit can have deadly consequences. Therefore, we believe that trying to solve the age-old problem of the “tactical argument” is a very important effort. We believe we have some useful thoughts on this matter.

How to “Win” a Tactical Argument

When arguing about tactics, winning (in the traditional sense) is generally impossible. The reason for this is that there is often not a single clear answer to any tactical question. When comparing two techniques, it is difficult to prove that one technique is entirely right and another is entirely wrong. Instead, each technique usually has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. However, in many cases, people on each side of the argument focus only on the advantages of their own technique and the disadvantages of the opposing technique, remaining completely closed-minded to alternative viewpoints which makes learning impossible. In our opinion, the only way to “lose” a tactical argument is to walk away without learning anything.

In contrast, we believe that the true tactical professional should strive to learn the advantages and disadvantages of every technique. You “win” a tactical argument by achieving an understanding of both sides of the argument. Even if you have a strong opinion about why one technique is better or safer than another, you will be able to argue your case more effectively if you know and understand the counterarguments to your own position and the weaknesses in your own argument. Ideally, you should be able to argue for the opposing viewpoint almost as well as you can argue for your own. This will ensure you know what to expect in the argument and how to respond. More importantly, attempting to understand the opposing viewpoint keeps your mind more open to new ideas, which is critical for ensuring the continued evolution and improvement of tactical thinking.

The Importance of Open-Mindedness

Even if you have a strong opinion, maintaining an open mind is the critical ingredient for tactical evolution and growth. The reason for this is that the battlefield, the enemy and the environment are always changing. A technique that is less effective in one situation may prove the best option in another situation. If you insist that your way is the best and only way, you may find it difficult to evolve and adapt to keep pace with changing threats and situations. There are countless historical examples where close-mindedness and refusal to accept change led to disaster in combat. Therefore, although you will not agree with every new idea, it is best to at least give each one fair consideration.

Breaking the Ego Barrier

Why is it so difficult to keep an open mind and consider opposing viewpoints? In many cases, the source of the problem is related to ego. For whatever reason, people tend to take tactical arguments extremely personally. Many tactical professionals consider alternative viewpoints to be direct attacks on their own professionalism, competence, experience and credibility. The impression is that when someone disagrees with you in a tactical argument, they are essentially telling you that you are incompetent and that you do not know what you are talking about. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. Tactical professionals are always going to have differences in opinion because of differing backgrounds, experiences and training. This means that two experienced and highly skilled professionals can disagree without either one of them being ignorant or incompetent. Therefore, in order for any learning or evolution to take place, it is critical to take ego out of the equation and approach the argument as an intellectual argument, not a personal argument.

How to Beat the “Tactical Argument Death Spiral”

The biggest danger of the tactical argument is that it will spiral out of control and end up wasting precious training time. The easy solution to this is to control the argument before the spiral starts. Once again, the goal should not be to “win” the argument but rather to capture all the advantages and disadvantages of each technique. If someone presents an argument during training, have a notebook or clipboard ready and write the argument down, keeping a log of the pros and cons of each technique. The critical point is to record all arguments and counterarguments, even ones that seem misguided or flawed. Never leave an argument unrecorded, no matter how foolish it might seem. Capture it in the log so it can be discussed later. Over time the log will grow and may prove useful for suggesting or implementing change down the road.

However, the time to try to implement changes is not when you are burning range time. Once training starts, stick with your current SOPs and follow the leader’s guidance. If you do not have a current SOP, just pick one option and go with it, or let each unit/individual choose their own method if that is practical. The important thing is to move forward with training, making notes of different ideas or viewpoints as you go, but not letting any one of them spiral into a heated argument. Simply make a note and move on, understanding that there is always time to circle back and discuss the notes later.

Maintaining a continually updated, running log of varying tactical ideas and perspectives will help the unit evolve and adapt to new threats and situations. Reviewing the compiled notes from previous training exercises can guide the creation of tactical experiments that will in turn lead to innovation. Essentially, if one topic or argument appears to be particularly heated, with many valid points on both sides, it might be a good idea to conduct realistic tests to determine whether it is a good idea to modify existing tactics or SOPs. There is no fixed formula for conducting a tactical experiment. The goal is simply to test each technique multiple times, under the most realistic conditions possible, record the results and keep conducting and improving the experiments until it is possible to make a decision.

One of the critical ingredients for making the above process possible is a command climate that encourages innovation and trying new things. When someone in the unit suggests a new idea, it is always beneficial to try out the new idea and test it under realistic conditions, if time and resources allow. This will foster an environment where people feel encouraged to think creatively about how to solve tactical problems and everyone is constantly looking for ways to improve. Alternatively, if the command tends to crush new ideas and punish those who make suggestions, this will increase the risk that the organization will fail to evolve and might be unprepared to face future threats.

SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS AND GUIDELINES:

  1. The goal should not be to “win” a tactical argument, but instead to understand both sides of the argument as well as possible.
  2. Open-mindedness is critical for adapting to evolving threats and environments
  3. Ego is the biggest obstacle to open-mindedness and there is never a good reason to bring ego into a tactical discussion.
  4. Instead of arguing, keep a running log recording each different technique along with its advantages and disadvantages.
  5. Use the log to guide the design of realistic, tactical experiments and use the results of these experiments to drive changes to unit tactics and SOPs.
  6. As much as possible, foster a command climate that encourages innovation and the discussion of different ideas and perspectives.