Intellectual Curiosity: Our ticket to the moon

Author: 
Captain Vedran Maslic

 

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

John F. Kennedy

Attaining the Intellectual Edge, an essential requirement to generate an advantage over future adversaries,[1] probably is only a lofty goal. But that’s what it should be!

The way I see it, a lofty goal is akin to a vision that seems just out of reach. We don’t really have a clue how we’ll get there, but we’re sure as hell going to try. Much like Kennedy inspired a nation to shoot for the moon, I believe that we can rally around this vision, to move the ADF somewhere it hasn’t been before—somewhere, perhaps most importantly, that could provide a decisive advantage in the battlespace of tomorrow. In my mind, the Intellectual Edge should be our moon.

Hence, the semantic challenge of defining the Intellectual Edge is something that will evolve over time as we slowly carve out a coherent flight path. Despite this, it is possible to define how we can achieve it. In this article, I will propose a simple metric that will not only help the ADF track and measure its commitment to the Intellectual Edge, but also help embed it into its culture.

 

Education as the vessel

It is well established that education has a positive correlation with intelligence,[2] defined here as a ‘‘mental quality that consists of the abilities to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts, and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment’’.[3] Given this reality, the ADF ought to be encouraging its members across all ranks to undertake graduate and postgraduate studies as well as diverse vocational training. Unfortunately, such endeavours remain largely an extracurricular activity dominated by a handful of—predominately—officers. Most importantly, perhaps, professional development is often relegated to voluntary effort, or as is more common, to a command-directed but ill-developed personal development plan that is usually ridiculed and rarely results in anything more than tokenism and mediocrity. This attitude towards self-development needs to morph into an institutionally endorsed commitment towards career-long learning and personal growth if we are to harness the full cognitive and intellectual potential of our people.

Importantly, the benefits of education, whatever shape it takes, go beyond the personal satisfaction of a diploma or proficiency attainment. Critically, it nurtures and stimulates intellectual curiosity, ‘‘a powerful motivator of behaviour, initiating actions directed at exploring one’s environment to resolve uncertainty and make the novel known’’.[4] All knowledge is intricately linked, and nurturing our intellectual curiosity through exploration of the unknown makes these connections visible, allowing for inspiration and insights to emerge in unexpected places. Thus, intellectual curiosity, viewed as a deliberate and active pursuit of knowledge, can be considered as the fuel, and education as the vessel, that carries us—individually and collectively—towards the lofty goal of the Intellectual Edge, whatever its ultimate definition.

 

Incentivised to explore

As such, it is important to incentivise ADF members to undertake further study, regardless of rank and seniority. One way to do this is to introduce a scale for Intellectual Curiosity in ADF Officer and Other Rank Performance Appraisal Reporting that would allow an assessing officer to evaluate a member’s commitment to developing their cognitive and intellectual faculties. This in turn should supplement the overall picture of an individual’s performance and their potential for promotion, instructional postings and pay scale. The arbitrary and heavily subjective ‘‘below, at and above worn rank’’ qualifiers would in this instance need to be replaced with rank-agnostic, yet quantifiable, designators appraising the assessed member’s intellectual curiosity, be that through the pursuit of formal or informal educational endeavours.

Vitally, this simple inclusion would not only incentivise individual efforts towards greater intellectual rigour, but would at the same time institute it at the collective level, as every assessor would in turn be assessed against this criterion by their superior. Thus, we would be raising the bar of what is expected—and indeed required—from all ranks within a 21st century ADF. While it is acknowledged that such an inclusion would not magically transform those who have little or no desire for intellectual endeavours, it would provide a platform of recognition, and therefore incentive, for those who do.

 

Progress because of diverse views, not despite them

Further, to allow intellectual curiosity to flourish, ADF members should be encouraged to engage with topics far and wide. To that end, what we consider relevant to the profession of arms and its seven pillars (technical and tactical mastery, physical mastery, psychological and cognitive mastery, mastery of military history and organisational theory, mastery of leadership and ethics, mastery of operational art and mastery of strategic thinking) proposed as a result of the Ryan Review,[5] needs to be broadened. Restricting academic pursuits to only those that have an immediately evident link to their current or future employment might deny innovative insights down the track. The aim, instead, should be to encourage and promote intellectual curiosity within ADF members across broad disciplines. In other words, intellectual engagement with diverse subjects should be viewed as a necessary—although not sufficient—condition that will help achieve the Intellectual Edge. Thus, consideration should be given to funding, at least in part if not wholly, the broadest possible range of academic and vocational endeavours. Investing in the development of cognitive prowess, however arbitrary it may initially seem, is what breeds innovation, which, at its core, is the process of ‘‘borrowing old technology and techniques, and combining them into or with new ideas’’.[6]

Undoubtedly, naysayers will argue that it should not be the taxpayer who funds what may be perceived as an irrelevant and personal interest of ADF members. To those I say, as a taxpayer, that I would much rather support the nurturing and development of an intelligent, morally adjusted and interdisciplinary force than face the consequences of stagnant, outdated and redundant thinking. This is particularly so given the multitude of geopolitical dynamics that characterise the current ‘’contested world’’,[7] as well as the relative size and reach of our Defence Force. As MAJGEN Mick Ryan correctly identified, any technological advantages over potential adversaries we enjoy at the moment are merely ‘‘transient rather than enduring’’.[8] Thus, stimulating and nourishing the intellectual curiosity of our people must become the norm, rather than the exception reserved for the few.

In conclusion, while adding one further criterion in our annual performance appraisal may seem trivial, I believe that it will embed the ideas of professional development and lifelong learning  — fundamental to achieving the Intellectual Edge — into our daily discourse, thus elevating both to the pre-eminent position they deserve. Doing anything less might just cost us the moon.

 

Captain Vedran Maslic

Vedran ‘Maz’ Maslic is an Officer who recently returned to the ADF after an extended break from the uniform. During his time away, he travelled extensively, completed further post-graduate studies and gained experience in multiple professional domains including entrepreneurship, international development and academia. Now, back in uniform, he is looking forward to becoming actively engaged in the continued development of a more intellectually potent ADF.

 


[1]Ryan, Mick. 2020. "The Intellectual Edge: A Competitive Advantage for Future War and Strategic Competition." Joint Force Quarterly 96 (Q1): 7.

[2]See for example Stuart, Ritchie J, and Elliot M Tucker-Drob. 2018. "How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis." Psychological Science 29 (8): 1368.

[3]Sternberg , Robert J. 2020. “Human intelligence.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed June 27, 2020.

[4]Arnone, Marilyn P, Ruth V Small, Sarah A Chauncey, and Patricia H McKenna. 2011. “Curiosity, interest and engagement in technology-pervasive learning environments: A new research agenda.” Educational Technology Research and Development 59 (2): 181.

[5]The Cove. n.d. Evolving an Intellectual Edge: Professional Military Education for the Australian Army: 4-5.

[6]Kerr, Fiona. 2015. "Operationalising Innovation: Hotwiring the Creative Organisation." In Integrating Innovation: South Australian Entrepreneurship Systems and Strategies, edited by Roos Göran and Allan O’Connor: 163.

[7]Ryan, Mick. 2019. "An Australian Intellectual Edge for Conflict and Competition in the 21st Century." The Centre of Gravity Series, March: 3.

[8]Ryan, Mick. 2019. "An Australian Intellectual Edge for Conflict and Competition in the 21st Century." The Centre of Gravity Series, March: 4.

 

Bibliography

Arnone, Marilyn P, Ruth V Small, Sarah A Chauncey , and Patricia H McKenna. 2011. "Curiosity, interest and engagement in technology-pervasive learning environments: A new research agenda." Educational Technology Research and Development 59 (2): 181-198.

Kerr, Fiona. 2015. "Operationalising Innovation: Hotwiring the Creative Organisation." In Integrating Innovation: South Australian Entrepreneurship Systems and Strategies, edited by Roos Göran and Allan O’Connor , 159–204. South Australia: University of Adelaide Press.

Ryan, Mick. 2019. "An Australian Intellectual Edge for Conflict and Competition in the 21st Century." The Centre of Gravity Series, March: 2-13.

Ryan, Mick. 2020. "The Intellectual Edge: A Competitive Advantage for Future War and Strategic Competition." Joint Force Quarterly 96 (Q1): 6-11.

Sternberg , Robert J. 2020. "Human intelligence." Encyclopædia Britannica. July 02. Accessed July 02, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/science/human-intelligence-psychology#ref13341.

Stuart, Ritchie J, and Elliot M Tucker-Drob. 2018. "How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis." Psychological Science 29 (8): 1358–69. doi:10.1177/0956797618774253.

The, Cove. n.d. Evolving an Intellectual Edge: Professional Military Education for the Australian Army. Accessed June 28, 2020. https://cove.army.gov.au/file/36026.