Does McChrystal's Firing Disrupt Innovation?

Bruce Nussbaum, a professor of innovation and design at Parsons School of Design and a former assistant managing editor for Business Week, lends some creative philosophy and corporate management perspective to McChrystal's firing in a blog post for Harvard Business Review, arguing that President Obama quashed innovation and creativity by firing his general in Afghanistan.


Gen. Stanley McChrystal is widely accepted as the innovator of COIN (counterinsurgency) strategy, being used in Afghanistan after he sold it to the administration, and Nussbaum argues:
Obama fired McChrystal for revealing the truth and embarrassing people on HIS team. Anyone who has tried to innovate within a big corporation recognizes this pattern. Punishing innovators for the values that make them creative is a clear path to failure.

Petraeus, of course, has counterinsurgency experience as well. While McChrystal was innovating as head of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) in Iraq, Petraeus is credited as well with innovative strategy in implementing President Bush's troop surge (which handed Petraeus a mandate for changes in operating procedure--e.g., the Bush administration announced it would do away with the capability for Iraqi parliament members to so easily call off military and police strikes on militias, even as those missions were being launched--and, more significantly, the new concept of civilian-run provincial reconstruction teams to boost economic growth); Petraeus, in other words, was there for the beginning of the change in military paradigm on counterinsurgency that began in Iraq and now is being used in Afghanistan.

Nussbaum argues that McChrystal's removal will disrupt the flow of operations in Afghanistan, and that Petraeus will have to work to rebuild the trust of key partners (e.g., Karzai). Certainly, that's the case.

Petraeus's appointment is being hailed as a major coup for Obama; his decisive removal and replacement--which happened within hours--as proof of robust executive competence and confidence. Nussbaum sees it as a managerial blunder, a spiteful breakup of a creative team just because the personality byproducts of creativity--the apparent incivility of the team (while drunk in France) and the general, the acute (and accurate, in Nussbaum's view) criticisms of administration bureaucracy--offended the president and his own circle.

Whether it was a blunder or a coup will be born out as Petraeus brings to bear his own creativity innovative capacity, which, perhaps ironically, are a major part of why Beltway observers are so excited about Petraeus taking over.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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