Self-Development and Preparing for Future War_3x5 Leadership

I believe any formal leader of an organization must consistently spend time and effort asking questions like, “what’s next?” and “what if?” for their people they lead. Leading truly purposeful and effective organizations requires deliberate forecasting, thinking about the future, and considering all of the change that the future can bring.

It is no different for military leaders and the future of war.

Last week, Zavier Radecker wrote a great piece on 3×5 Leadership challenging military leaders to consider reading fiction as a means to help prepare for the future of war. I couldn’t agree more. I believe military leaders need to read on and think about future war much more than we currently do – myself included.

While I consider my passion making people and organizations better through the lens of leadership and leader development, I’m also a military officer challenged with leading Soldiers in our ever-evolving and increasingly complex operating environments. We can no longer merely consider factors within the boundaries of enemy, terrain, and our tactical task during operations.  Military leaders must appreciate the complexities that emerging technology, social media, geography, politics, demographics, and even climate change have on operations – including at the tactical level of war. More and more, junior Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers can make tactical-level decisions with strategic-level impacts.

While military leaders should expect to explore these ideas through the institutional and operational domains of development, those alone are insufficient. We don’t often sit around the office pontificating on the impact that a new piece of technology will have on the future and ethics of war – who has time to do that amidst the urgency of tasks each day? Leaders must commit personal time and effort through self-development to best understand the possible complexities of our future and future conflict.

Below is a book list on where I have started my self-developmental reading to better understand future war. This is far from an exhaustive list – there are many titles that I still have on my to-read list that could likely be added below. But this is where I have started. These reads have provided me greater context to better understand the nature of current events and why things are happening the way they are.

This list is not culture-specific; I don’t offer any reads on a specific region or time-frame. They are mostly culture-general, meaning they span across many regions and contexts. This list also ranges across three general categories – technology, science fiction, and applicable non-fiction. I don’t think one of these three categories alone is sufficient. Leaders need to gain a foundational understanding across all three to appreciate the realities and full complexities of future war. Future technology looks at what’s coming, science fiction addresses what could be, and non-fiction reads reveal what is. All three together help paint a more complete picture for military leaders to best learn about future war.

Future Technology

Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War, by Paul Scharre

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, by P.W. Singer

@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex, by Shane Harris

The Perfect Weapon: How the Cyber Arms Race Set the World Afire, by David E. Sanger

Science Fiction

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (recommend the entire Ender’s saga)

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, by P.W. Singer & August Cole

The Forever War series, by Joe Haldeman

Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Armada, by Ernest Cline

I encourage you to learn more on the value of science fiction as a means to help prepare for future war (and a possible future in general). You can check out Strategy Bridge’s article, Science Fiction and the Strategist 2.0, by Mick Ryan and Nate Finney, and the value of reading fiction for leader development on 3×5 Leadership.

Relevant Non-Fiction

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media, by P.W. Singer & Emerson T. Brooking

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, by George Friedman

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics, by Tim Marshall

The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder, by Peter Zeihan

Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, by Ian Bremmer

Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught US About Leadership, by Martin E. Dempsey & Ori Brafman

The Future of Power, by Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

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