How Narrative May Be Constraining the U.S. Military’s COVID-19 Approach

When faced with a crisis, people and organizations often turn toward the familiar.  The US military is no exception.  The U.S. military uses familiar military references to describe its approach toward the Covid-19 Pandemic.   An article in Army Times sums up this mentality classifying Covid-19 as an “enemy” of America and arguing the US military will “defeat” this national threat.  This may be the correct approach to the problem, and the point of this article is not to argue such an approach is necessarily incorrect.  Instead, the argument presented here will show how framing a problem through narrative can cause narrow thinking and inadvertently create a future fundamental surprise.

Planners in most organizations are uncomfortable with ambiguity, surprise, and unfamiliarity.  The first reaction is an attempt to frame the unfamiliar within in a familiar framework in an effort to avoid the ambiguity the environment is offers.  The most common form of this narrative framing problem occurs when planners are faced with a complex problem and they act as if it is simple.  The Cynefin framework offers a great description of how this occurs and the potential problems organizations create for themselves when attempting to address complex problems in a simple fashion.  

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