The Men Who Stare at Boats

The Strategic Studies Group is located at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. This group reports directly (and solely) to the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon. The SSG is tasked with coming up with revolutionary ways of thinking about conflict and winning wars.


I was honored to be invited to give a full "back of the napkin" workshop to the senior officers of the SSG. Last week I packed up my tablet PC and whiteboard and headed off to face the bracing December winds of Newport.


Although I'm not at liberty to share what we talked about, I can say that I had an amazing time and left the Naval War College with an extraordinary sense of confidence in the innovative abilities of our political and military leaders. In other words, the people (quite literally) calling the shots are infinitely more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and asking tough questions than those of us not in the armed forces are usually lead to believe.

(Aside: Although my father was an Air Force Captain, my uncle a Naval Commander, and my cousin is a career Marine, I never served in the armed forces. I decided early on that I'd rather learn about the world "out there" by wielding a pencil rather than a gun, but that's another story.)

Simming in Sims Hall

From a visual problem-solving perspective, one of the fascinating aspects of the SSG's operations (that I can share) is the floor. Yes, that's right; the floor of Sim's Hall is a historic landmark. Why would a rather somber checkerboard of white and gray stone be of historical significance?


Because it was on that floor that the naval battles of World War II were acted out in advance. "Sims" Hall was named after Admiral William Sims, the commanding officer of the US Navy's European fleet during WWI and who later became a leading advocate of warfare simulation.


When WWII broke out, the floor of the cafeteria in the building bearing Sims' name became a huge oceanic chessboard. As admirals and commanders moved model ships about the floor, strategists and junior officers watched from the gallery above. Here the battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, and the island-hopping campaign were first visualized.

Sims Hall; appropriate name, isn't it?


Another insight I learned from the Marines and Naval officers about communicating ideas is the BLUF principle. When presenting to a senior officer, always keep BLUF in mind:

  • Bottom
  • Line
  • Up
  • Front

In other words, get to the point immediately. If that is compelling, there will be plenty of time for details later.

Good lesson. Thank you USMC, USN, and USAF.


3 thoughts on “The Men Who Stare at Boats

  1. I read in a WWII magazine last summer that during WWII a US Navy submarine commander used a ballroom in Hawaii to simulate various “wolf pack” strategies to use in the Pacific against the Japanese. This was in attempt to prove that a “wolf pack patrol” attack was more effective method of sub warfare (as oppose to just individual sub patrols).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>