What do you need to win a war? First, an army equipped with modern weapons and instilled with high spirit. Second, a vibrant economy capable of sustaining the hardship of continued military operations. Third, strong public support of the country’s military and political leadership.
Anything else I forgot to mention? Well, yes, one more little thing: you need enemy. Not just an enemy, a bogeyman you create to justify the war, but the enemy, the real cause of your troubles which destruction will lead to victory.
Finding a true enemy is usually–however not always–easier in case of combat operations. But we Americans are used to launching wars against everything we consider a threat to our society. That’s where defining enemy becomes tricky. Take President Johnson’s War on Poverty of 1964. By failing to identify the root causes of poverty, the federal government has been shelling the elusive enemy with 92(!) federal programs. The result? The poverty rate in the U.S. is pretty much the same today (around 15%) as it was back in 1964.
Or take the War on Drugs launched by President Nixon in 1971. By focusing on fighting drug traffickers instead of treating drug addicts, the War on Drugs has miserably failed to lower the level of illegal drug abuse–not to mention the humongous waste of the taxpayers’ money. And I even don’t want to talk about the notorious War on Terror that seems to only have increased the number of enemies it was supposed to fight.
The only arguably bright spot in our fighting against socials ills is President Nixon’s War on Cancer. By identifying molecular targets responsible for malignant growth and then designing drug specifically attacking these targets, scientists have been able to dramatically decrease the death rate for certain cancers. An analogy between using special operation forces instead of regular army immediately comes to mind.
I’m not a great fan of using military terminology for non-military topics. Yet it’s tempting to compare a crowdsourcing campaign to a military operation. Sure, you need a large and competent crowd–your “army”–to solve a problem. But even more important is to properly define this problem–your “enemy”–so that the crowd can attack it in the most efficient way. Failing to do so will make your enemy elusive and your campaign unfocused–and eventually unsuccessful. I strongly suspect that the ultimate failure of a crowdsourcing campaign launched by BP in the wake of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a result of a poor problem definition. On the other hand, I applaud the approach taken by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) when it launched its recent crowdsourcing campaign Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development: by focusing on protection of medical professionals treating Ebola patients, USAID has chosen a perfect target for their first anti-Ebola hit.
So let me formulate my first rule of winning a war (and all the credit goes to Sun Tzu): know your enemy!
Image credit: abolishwork.com