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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

On the martial actuary

ONE OF THE PRINCIPAL REASONS why the conflict inIraq has been so worrying to some is that wenow take peace for granted. This attitude isone consequence of the exceptionally longpeace which Europe has enjoyed; another interesting, butless obvious, consequence of this long peace is that the UKactuarial profession can boast of few ex-forces members.This lack is not surprising, but is in some ways a shame:military life does more than merely imbue the values ofduty, honour and valour, and a sense of esprit de corps – italso furnishes a variety of thinking tools to help us in ourdaily battles.For a start, the military world is a well-known source ofuniversally applicable maxims. The most famous mustsurely be Sun Tzu’s ‘know your enemy’; other maxims areless well known, but just as useful. ‘Time spent in recce isseldom wasted’ is a precept that corporations bent oninternational expansion would be wise to take to heart.And then we have the maxim deduced by Napoleon andHitler, ‘never march on Moscow’. We may shortly findthat this translates naturally into ‘never attempt to makea profit from stakeholder pensions’…More interesting than such trite maxims are the structuredthought processes that the services provide. Themost useful such process, the combat appreciation, hasalready been written about in detail in The Actuary (October2000). Suffice it to say that the structure ‘aim – factors– courses open – plan’ can help to clarify otherwise woollyand imprecise thinking when we are faced with a nontrivialqualitative problem.Once we have solved our problem and so produced aplan, what is the best way to present it to our legions? Forthis, the army has a standard structure that ensures allinvolved will know what they need to do, how to do it,and why they are doing it. The structure is: situation – mission – execution – administration –communications and control.Under situation we describe all relevant aspects of the situation:positions of friendly forces, enemy forces, perceivedenemy intentions…. Under mission we describe inone short and simple sentence what we are trying toachieve. Under execution we describe the steps to be taken,when, and by whom. The administration and communicationsand control parts then deal with ancillary matters ofrelevance (for instance, specification of the chain ofcommand).This process may seem intellectually trivial: it is.However, how many times have we received, in officebriefings, all the information which we really need on thecontext, the precise aim, the steps to be taken and bywhom, in a clear, unmuddled, and unmuddied way?Likewise, in dealing with our junior staff, how many timeshave we given such clear and comprehensive instructions?One of the latest and most interesting fashions in militarythinking is ‘mission analysis’. This is a processdesigned to understand better our mission, so that we canadapt our approach sensibly as circumstances change. Theprocess arose in the aftermath of the Falklands war, duringwhich many junior commanders found themselves withmissions to fulfil whose raison d’être no longer seemedvalid, given changes to the tactical situation since theyhad been briefed. One way of structuring a mission analysisis to consider the following questions: what assets are available? what are the critical facts and assumptions? what are the constraints? what are my specified tasks? what are my implied tasks?What assets are available? Do I still have the resources toachieve this mission, compared with the situation when Iwas briefed?What are the critical facts and assumptions? This questionis particularly relevant to any complex plan, and Ithink is rarely raised. ‘Assumption is the mother of disaster’,runs an old maxim. We pride ourselves on our attentionto quantitative assumptions, but how much thoughtdo we devote to qualitative assumptions? What preciselyare the assumptions underlying our plan – are they stillvalid? If not, what should be done about it?What are the constraints? What are my specified andimplied tasks? As far as specified tasks are concerned, itwill be important to consider if these are still valid givenany changes to circumstances since our original tasking.Then, to achieve those tasks, what implied tasks are therewhich we need to take care of en route?The purpose of this editorial is simply to provide somefood for thought: looking at how another ‘world’ organisesits thinking, what can we learn to improve our professionallives? No one tool will fit all individuals, tasksand circumstances – ‘You can’t tool all the people all thetime’ – but the above ideas may make our toolbox morepowerful. Whatever we may plagiarise from army trainingmanuals, however, it is opportune to remember the mostimportant management advice that the military gives:assuming adequate resources, the successful completion ofa difficult task will depend on just one thing – leadership.