Socializing a New Idea

By | April 29, 2020

[April 29, 2020]  Senior leaders are experienced in resolving vague, uncertain, complex problems. Solving such issues will inevitably get supported or disagreement on its effectiveness, reliability, and appropriateness.  When problems are highly complex, and there is time available, one way to overcome resistance is by socializing the new idea.

One of the most significant decisions in the Iraq War will illustrate how socializing a new idea works.  In 2006 and 2007, the U.S. military and the coalition fighting in Iraq saw a dramatic increase in insurgent activity, causing a jump in casualties among coalition troops and civilians.  How to resolve this developing problem required new thinking about the Iraq War.

Senior staff officers presented many ideas in large forums at the Al Faw Palace (Baghdad), giving us several courses of action.  Senior officials from the White House the Pentagon were present on secure video teleconferencing.  There seemed to be a never-ending stream of ideas that produced more forums and meetings.  By late 2006, we weren’t getting anywhere.

In early 2007, a young man from General Petraeus’ “brain trust” staff had the idea of a surge in troops to be used in a new counterinsurgency strategy.  He called a number of his friends in the Department of State, at the White House, U.S.-based senior staffers, the FBI, CIA, and other “interagency actors.”  Slowly and patiently he worked his social skills throughout the bureaucracy.

Weeks went by when all stakeholders were contacted and his idea examined inside and out.  There were informal gatherings and small forums of a dozen or so people that eventually grew into more extensive, formal conferences.  Gen. Petraeus encouraged this effort.  While it took several months to socialize this new idea of a troop surge, its initial success in planning was not guaranteed.  These were anxious times.  Eventually, the strategy saw approval by the U.S. president.

Socializing new ideas at any level in any bureaucracy comes with great difficulty.  Large, resource-rich solutions are risky where failure means a terrible price is paid.  In war, that price is the lives of troops and local civilians.  Without this idea of a “surge” being socialized, it might never have been approved or, if approved, would it have met resistance from the many government agencies.

Socializing a new idea must involve all stakeholders, overseen by senior leaders, be executable with on-hand resources, and have the buy-in of nearly everyone.  Hundreds of thousands of working hours were consumed in the pursuit of this new Petraeus strategy.  Fortunately, it worked and the insurgency collapsed.  We can disagree with the war or why it occurred, but no one can deny that the surge worked and that the unknown socialization of this new strategy worked.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Socializing a New Idea

  1. Kenny Foster

    Gen. Satterfield, you have hit on a very important point that deserves more attention. This is like setting expectations and explaining what is going on BEFORE it happens. Socializing new ideas is crucial for long-term success in any leader’s endeavor. Make no mistake about it, if you are any kind of leader (or person who wants things done), then make sure your ideas are informally circulated first.

  2. Jonnie the Bart

    I have a great boss at work. Not only does he treat us with respect and dignity but he also does exactly as advised by Gen. Satterfield. He ‘socializes” ideas that are new to our company. He does that by talking informally and then in meetings as the new idea(s) spread. He takes his time and works thru problems that come up during that time. By the time the process is formalized, everyone mostly has already bought in on the new idea. Much smoother and less stress.

    1. Eric Coda

      If only all our bosses were that respectful and thoughtful. ?

    2. Scotty Bush

      Alas, I wish we all could learn how to do this. Time and money are a factor however and so let’s not forget that important restraint on our ability to execute the mission. Thanks for the note and I’m happy for you Jonnie that your boss is smarter than most.

      1. Tracey Brockman

        Good point, Scotty. I always say that it must be a balance between resources and mission planning.

  3. Gil Johnson

    You may get interesting feedback that assists in refining and strengthening your ideas. Either way, socializing the idea of the change before implementing the change makes the whole process smoother.

  4. Jung Hoon Kim

    Very good, you have my thanks. I enjoyed the idea you have today.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Hello Mr. Kim. It has been a long time since you commented. Your ideas are always welcome. I hear that South Korea has made some great progress against the COVID-19 pandemic. You are to be congratulated for all that was done to prevent many deaths in your country.

  5. Joe Omerrod

    I like the way you integrate the story about the ‘surge’ in Iraq into the idea of socializing an idea. While it is certainly something we all do, unless we are antisocial, it has its greatest impact on large, complex ideas. Just like the idea that the Earth was round and not flat. That got a lot of attention early on but what happened was that it made for new advancements in understanding the universe well before we could launch satellites into orbit.

  6. Tom Bushmaster

    During this socializing process, hopefully someone will tell you if you are about to jump off a cliff you can’t see because of your position.

    1. Jerome Smith

      Right, it’s all about communication ….. effective communication. That is why developing our social skills is such an important idea. Without good commo, you will screw up for sure.

    2. Ed Berkmeister

      And too many of us are just too narcissistic to realize that.

  7. Greg Heyman

    Socializing a new idea will get you to see things from other people’s perspective that you would never see on your own.

  8. Harry Donner

    Good points today, Gen Satterfield. Like some of the others here, I never really gave this much thought. But we do this every day but just don’t think of it that way. If you want to buy a new car, it is a good idea to talk with your spouse about it. Or, if you want to get a new job, the same thing should be done. We are socializing an idea by discussing it with others. It would be a great idea if more senior leaders did the same.

  9. Max Foster

    Frankly, I never thought of it this way. An overall plan to just socialize an idea. This is very much unlike our politicians today who just want to cram it down our throats. They are, of course in their minds, intellectually and morally superior to the rest of us.

    1. Army Captain

      The idea that socializing an idea is best is a good thing but “time” is often not available for it. Just think of the military officer who must make a quick decision to fight the enemy. There is little time to gather everyone around for a pow wow.

    2. Gladys Bates

      Good comment again, Max. Thanks. Your note on politicians extends to dictators in particular. I find that some of our socialist politicians would like to be a dictator. That way, the US Constitution would not have to get in the way of making the world a “paradise” where everyone is happy, paid the same, and are the same.

    3. Eva Easterbrook

      One way to gather this critical feedback on your repositioning (or other major change initiative) is to socialize the idea. Toss the idea out during hallway conversations, before or after meetings with key people you trust. Find a way to informally get feedback, responses and additional ideas about the change you want to make.


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