Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Applying Creative Thinking to My Career Future

Last summer, I had to write an argumentative paper following the Command and General Staff School's Writing Standard for Army Leaders. I have been enrolled in my Intermediate Level Education (ILE) course since last summer, which is one reason why I have not written much on here since then. Last summer was Phase I, and through May of this year I am in Phase II. I will attend Phase III this summer, which will complete the ILE course for me. I thought I would post a paper which I wrote in Phase I. As an introduction, here are the comments I wrote in my self-assessment:

As I began this assignment, I was really struggling with development of my arguments. Once I created a stronger assertion with my thesis statement and developed an outline of my major points, the flow of writing was easier. I believe the fact I was able to make it more personal increased my ability to write with passion for the subject. There is a logical progression, as I lay out a model of working on staff, transitioning to field command, but also applying what I will learn to my future civilian career. Overall I think it holds up well as an argumentative paper, and meets the intellectual standards for clarity, logic, relevance, and significance.

Now for the essay, complete with endnotes:

Generally, most people want to be viewed as being creative, due to the positive connotations of being unique and original when solving problems. I like to believe I am creative, but if I am being honest, I am more of a critical thinker. In my desire to be a better leader, I must improve my creative thinking and re-balance it with my critical thinking. Historically, when problems are identified, society has always looked for innovative leaders, who can apply logic to their creativity and make an appropriate decision. Over the next 10 years of my Field Grade officer career, I will be identified as an innovative leader by more readily applying the process of creative thinking to my duties. Operational level commanders seek officers with whom they have worked before, who think outside of the box, and develop alternative solutions to fill positions on their staff. Additionally, peers and subordinates tend to trust and follow these types of leaders, which will be of utmost importance when I am a commander. When I complete my current active duty tour, I will be an appealing candidate to business professionals, who tend to seek proven, creative leaders for employment.

Every military commander wants to be successful. I have not seen a commander yet, who takes command with a primary intention of failing. When given the latitude, a commander will build their staff with personnel whom they know will make them successful. They would seek Soldiers who fit the Army’s definition for a leader as set forth in FM 6-22, Army Leadership. FM 6-22 provides the Leadership Requirements Model, which defines the expectations of a leader’s attributes and competencies.(1) One part of that model, a “Leader with Intellectual Capacity” (2), relates directly to creative thinking through its attributes of mental agility, sound judgment, and innovation (3).

An Army commander could pick blindly and find plenty of critical thinkers to populate their staff. It is the search for the creative thinkers that will help them win the day when the nation calls. I must work to ensure my current superiors recognize those three intellectual capacity traits in me. As my superiors are selected for command, desiring to do well, I would expect them to invite me to join their staff. Based on past experience, the commander should know I would strive to make him successful and work as a creative leader on his staff.

Depending on the level of command, there would be an increasing expectation to solve a sundry of arduous problems. As I accept his offer for an organizational-level position, there will be an inordinate presumption, in fact a demand, to use the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). The MDMP planning tool requires both critical and creative thinking to be successful and effective. But it is through the creativity-driven Course of Action (COA) Development, where a staff earns its pay. As part of that staff, I will be required to lay all my associative thoughts on the table during this step. In the end, the commander will test my creativity and decision making skill when I present the recommended Course of Action. Given our past working relationship, the commander will have assurance that he can depend on me to complete the MDMP process successfully.

When I am given the opportunity to command, I must never assume that peers or subordinates from previous assignments would automatically want to work for me. With regard to peers, of course the dynamics of the relationship would change instantaneously when I become the commander. I would never want soldiers who are subordinates, company grade and senior non-commissioned officers, to feel pressured to work for me again. In both cases, I would want them to work for me based on an established bond of mutual respect and trust. As the level of command increases, the potential for increased stress and tension can be considerable. At all levels in today’s operational environment, Soldiers need to know those assigned above, below and beside them have their best interests at heart.

Over time, I believe these types of relationships can be built with creativity through positive and “miscellaneous good” (4) attitudes. Whether you are working with peers or subordinates to solve a problem, the “ability to suspend judgment and criticism” (5), goes a long way toward building trust. To do this, I must work to remove the fear of criticism from those involved in the creative process. During times of immense pressure, when suspension of criticism is repeated, relationships can be forged in the same way as steel, and not easily broken.

Creativity also builds a positive attitude of perseverance. (6) Creative thinking brings with it a determination to keep working to make improvements and solve problems. Under the Warrior Ethos of the Soldier’s Creed, commanders are charged to lead with an attitude of perseverance. Soldiers will not follow unless they know the leader will always place the mission first, never accept defeat, never quit, and never leave a fallen comrade. (7) As Soldiers, we may lean toward using this only in the battlefield environment. Being creative allows a leader to see the Warrior Ethos’ application in regard to the issues Soldiers face in garrison as well.

One last attitude that builds and reinforces trust among Soldiers is “a belief that mistakes are welcome.” (8) Leaders must allow their Soldiers to make mistakes, especially in reference to subordinates. In much the same way that I must be creative in the absence of guidance, I want my Soldiers to exercise initiative in the absence of orders. If I squelch their creativity and they neglect to seize the initiative, opportunities will be lost. For both commanders and their Soldiers, mistakes are an important part of the creative learning and growth process. With an all-around positive attitude, I can work to create strong bonds with my Soldiers.

Continued improvement of my creative thinking process, while pursuing more challenging military positions, will also contribute to my future success in finding civilian employment. It is often mentioned that businesses seek candidates for employment who have a military background. For blue collar positions, veterans are most likely sought due to their learned discipline and strong work ethic. I believe employers have a different reason when hiring military officers to fill white collar vacancies. Creative thinking professionals, who can see the larger strategic plan, brainstorm with organizational level teams, and implement decisions are what drive American corporations to success. Two years ago when the economic slump affected my position with an architecture firm, I had to be creative in finding a new job. In 2009, United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) brought me on active duty to assist with their Base Realignment Team. I have been able to use my architecture knowledge as a Project Officer during construction of their new building. When I have completed my tour, I expect to use this experience and my increased skill in creativity to gain an organizational level position with a new architecture firm.

When I look to the future of my career in the Army, I have every reason to believe I will be successful. With a steady determination to increase my use of creative thinking in positions of increasing responsibility as a Major and higher, I know I will be recognized as an imaginative leader in my field. In working with superiors, peers, and subordinates alike, they will expect me to meet this high standard. I intend to meet and exceed their expectations while gaining their confidence and appreciation. As I am successful in meeting that objective, it will prepare the foundation for my transition into a future position with a St. Louis architecture firm. At that point, if I do not find a position available in architecture, then I will just continue to be creative.


(1) FM 6-22, Army Leadership, (Washington, D.C., Department of the Army, 2006), 2-4

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Robert Harris, “Introduction to Creative Thinking”, VirtualSalt, Version Date: July 1, 1998

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) FM 6-22, Army Leadership, (Washington, D.C., Department of the Army, 2006), 4-10

(8) Robert Harris, “Introduction to Creative Thinking”, VirtualSalt, Version Date: July 1, 1998