Graduated or continuous

The recent post on the operational level of warfare and plenty discussions and other communications of the past have told me more about the importance of how people look at the world.

I already wrote about the mosaic and gems thing; that a 80% crappy book can still be fine if it has 5% gems, while a 95% mediocre and only 5% crappy book without gems is utterly useless.
I'm not in much company with my emphasis on the few gems and disinterest in the average quality of books. I know people who dislike a long text because they disagree with some premise, completely ignoring what they could learn from other parts of it.

The difference between graduated and discreet is apparently another thing which divides people in their approach. Look at this graphic:

I can see purple, dark purple, blue, turquoise, green, yellow, orange, red and dark red.
I cannot quite tell where the delineations between them are, but I don't care. I've got some tolerance for this kind of fuzziness. There's no tolerance for fuzziness if once well-defined terms become fuzzy because of inflationary use, though. I won't accept the yellow as "red".

Does this tolerance for fuzziness matter? Well, yes, I think so.
It's nice to have great clarity thanks to order, definitions et cetera - but these normally useful mental tools become perverted if one insists on them in face of a problem which is inherently fuzzy.
Sometimes there is no "yes" or "no" answer, but only a "it depends", for example. Other times it's obvious that there are some different things, even if one cannot pin down the exact delineations.

Plenty people insist on "yes" or "no" - they insist on simplifying the world. It's being done a lot in professional training, for example. Courses with high graduation rates are especially prone to this. The greater the share of graduating students, the more you need to dumb the content down.
This is probably why some military forces are so fond of simplistic maxims. The business world also uses some simplistic models which are useful for pointing something out once, but are often taken much more seriously. It's fine to understand the idea of the Pareto principle, but to take the Pareto chart seriously in business is bullshit, for example.*

Simplistic approaches may be fine for practical employment most of the time, but they're merely blinding you for the finer points and exceptions if you insist on them in theory. Anyone striving for understanding difficult problems and many exceptions to the rules needs to drop the ambition that everything needs to fit into simplistic frameworks.


*: Stupid people will apply the chart and fail to account for its exceptions, while smart people don't need the chart anyway.
The worst models and methods in businesses are the ones developed by big brand consultants. These people develop these models to have something simple enough that top management may understand it in a presentation, but nebulous and confusing enough that said management falls for the pretence that it takes experienced consultants to apply the crap. These models were invented to acquire clients for consultants, not for good management.


  1. Ok, I proudly am stupid people. Propably because I dont share your obsession with scope (as in wavelength or size of formation). But insist the difference between strategy and tactics is about quality (like matter/radiation). If strategy/tactics was about scope, small independent players (a warlord for example) should concern themselves with strategy no more than a commander of a similar sized force in a regular army. The best way to solve this paradox is to have two dimensions. Ttactical considerations change with size (and kind) of troops commanded, strategical concerns with the level of independence. So the question becomes: does the operational fit within the space defined by those variables or does one need to add a third dimension? If the stock of knowledge usually described as operational art fits, the operational is not to be grouped with strategy and tactics, but a function of their interaction. So the operational becomes the application of specific tactical and strategic considerations to a specific situationn. There are platoon-operations, bataillon-operations, brigade-operations, corps-operations, state-operations etc. But no specific operational level of war, because operationalisation of strategic and tactical knowledge is inherent to war.

    But I guess to someone who mistakes fuzziness for complexity, I look like a simpleton trying to make a presentation.

  2. 'I already wrote about the mosaic and gems thing; that a 80% crappy book can still be fine if it has 5% gems, while a 95% mediocre and only 5% crappy book without gems is utterly useless.'

    Agreed. That's usually how theory progresses in a given field, hints of genius peppered amongst relentless mediocrity. If you have enough such works at your disposal (and the time to go through them all), you can conglomerate them all into something truly amazing.