Enhancing Commander's Intent with CAST

Article 5 min
Review how complex adaptive systems thinking (CAST) can benefit you, your leadership and be applied specifically to the information environment. 

The world has become increasingly more complex and at a much faster pace. 5G wireless, smart cities, artificial intelligence, emerging technology, not to mention information as a joint function, multidomain operations, leaders and organizations must become more adaptable to changing environments.

Adaptability is an essential quality for successful leaders. It allows you to stay ahead of the curve or change when what you're doing is no longer working. Adaptable leaders evolve to gain or maintain the competitive advantage.

Complex adaptive systems thinking, or CAST, informs leadership by allowing them to analyze interrelation and dynamic complexity of people, communities, cultures, and their environments. By leveraging this approach to the modern information environment, leaders can take a broad view. It allows them to tackle problems by thinking through intent, approach and strategic adaptability.

CAST links ideas, facts, and human narratives in meaningful and relevant ways. Being a systems thinker requires a shift from seeing individual elements with a linear cause and effect to seeing an entire system with interrelated nodes, links, and flows. To truly understand how to engage a system and understand the ripple effects of an action, the information environment must be studied systematically. Understanding how information perceived in one area, may impact another is crucial.

Engaging in and understanding the human domain is important as you try to change, inform, or shape human behavior. As communication professionals, you must recognize that the essential ‘key terrain’ is the will of a host nation’s population.

Gaining context and insights on how relevant actors connect allows communication professionals to gain the trust of skeptical populations, frustrate adversary efforts and gain the competitive advantage, while speaking truth to power.

Every action impacts other areas of a system. Recognizing the complexity of problems helps the planning process by:

  1. helping others gain an understanding of the opportunity or problem through communication
  2. creating new ways of thinking about and seeing an opportunity or problem to develop a shared understanding and 
  3. planning actions and behavior that work with the complex forces in the system, instead of against them

More potential solutions can be identified and tested, while creating awareness for unintended consequences. By expanding the available choices, you can identify a course of action that offers the best chance for developing effective plans towards the desired end state. At every step, remember to evaluate your efforts at a strategic, operational and tactical level.

Information is a resource, an instrument of power and a warfighting function. Using CAST allows commanders to leverage informational power to shape the perceptions, attitudes, and other elements that drive desired behaviors and shape the course of events.

Commander’s intent has to consider the beliefs, values, narratives, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of a culture that inform the worldview of relevant actors inside and outside any organization. With a systems approach, communication professionals realize everything is dynamically interrelated. CAST gives people the tools to integrate interconnectivity, productivity and creativity into any commander’s intent.