Discovering Doctrine

First and foremost, doctrine is the means by which we determine heroism. It is how we establish the limits of acceptable and needed behavior given the circumstances we expect our agents to encounter in their everyday work.

This is why the military will discuss heroism as someone having gone above and beyond the call of duty. A hero is someone who has looked doctrine in the face, understood the limits of expectation, and went beyond those limits (normally with the limited resources they already have) in order to fulfill a stated objective.

Similarly, it is often the worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty who receives recognition, bonuses, and promotion.

But what is doctrine really?

Fundamentally, doctrine is about belief. What we as an institution believe to be good, and right, and true. We experience doctrine as the values, norms, and rules that dictate and delineate the nature of relationships within an organization and between our agents and agents of other organizations or structures. 

Interestingly,  we often find that the source of these doctrinal beliefs resides in our fears. To counter those fears we institute doctrine to help give us a unified understanding of what we should do to work effectively in the world. It is these fears (about the present and even more often about the future) that shape and meld our willingness to engage the world as we attempt to bring our ideas to fruition. 

And the primary counterbalance to doctrine is the resources available. This is because resources want to be used and doctrine is a restrictive force. It is doctrine (and sometimes the failure of doctrine) that creates space for us to use available resources.

An example from our everyday lives. 

You just got your paycheck and, as you walk down the street, you are considering the many expenses you have to cover. As you are stroll along you pass a store and see something that you really wanted to buy – not something you need, something you want. It feels like that money is burning a hole in your pocket. You look longingly at the item for a moment but then stoically turn away saying to yourself “no, I’m not going to buy that.” If you make it home without buying the item, your doctrine overruled your resources. 

If you are like many people, you take two, three, maybe four steps further on the sidewalk and not 2 seconds later find yourself at the counter already taking out the money to pay for the item. At that moment the drive of resources outweighed the restrictive nature of doctrine –  even though you knew that you shouldn’t spend that money based on your understanding of reality and your value system.

Will this happen again? 

Well, that depends on the ramifications of the decision and what you learn from your new reality.

You see, doctrine isn’t just about beliefs or sourced in fear. It’s the mechanism for learning and it adapts as we learn and integrate new information into our knowledge bank. And it consequently becomes the basis for teaching that belief system – to ourselves and to the people who are part of an organization. Doctrine helps identify the “I” of identity –  not only for the individuals but for the organization as a whole. It is what allows parents to say to their children “We don’t do that,” even if others do.

And it is doctrine that allows us to determine our organizational structure and the hierarchy of influence within that structure.

So, doctrine is the conglomeration of our values, culture, identity, fears, and organizational structure.

Dr. D.

Together these things dictate and determine for our employees, our soldiers, and family how we expect them to behave. It’s a mechanism for teaching them the necessary skills and tools that are appropriate given the challenges they face.

And as a result of this conglomeration, doctrine acts as the mechanism for identifying and working with partners and allies. While not absolute, it is often through the lens of doctrine that we choose who we work with, who we marry, and who we perceive as our opponent.   

But what about partnerships where doctrine doesn’t align but there is a want or perceived need (of resources especially)? There are consequences for allowing resources to outweigh doctrine – as the saying goes “desire is the root cause of suffering.”  Again, not an absolute, but sayings like this exist because of the plethora of human experience.

While doctrine is most influential at the Operative stage of a creative process,  it is (like all strategic elements) inherent to every stage of that process. And as we move beyond the Operative stage and into the Tactical we will find the doctrine has a direct influence on our willingness to take risks and our capacity to acknowledge and engage opportunity. 

But it’s important to remember that doctrine is a byproduct of our understanding of the world and reality as we know it. Which means that it can be faulty. 

So, the more often we actively undertake strategic processes and integrate what we learn into doctrine, the more we will learn about the relevancy gap between our mindset and the reality within which we are working.  If we can learn from our mistakes, and from our successes, as we go through iteration after iteration, then our doctrine should adapt and give us the space to deal with reality as it comes. Like Kuhn’s paradigm shift,  doctrine can only change as new incoming information influences our understanding of the world.

This does not mean you have to like or accept reality. After all, we undertake creative processes and engage strategy in order to change (or protect) reality to suit vision and desired destiny. And there will always be core doctrinal beliefs that will not change because of reality – not because we don’t recognize reality but because we choose not to accept that reality and believe that there is a better way – to behave, to engage, and to relate.


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