Saturday, July 9, 2011

War and Architecture

I ran across an Eisenhower quote: "Plans are nothing: planning is everything."  Being into military history it reminded me of the very old maxim, "no plan survives contact with the enemy," which goes back at least to Clausewitz, and was restated recently by Colin Powell.

It states the reality of almost every complex, real world problem: that every move you make to "solve" a problem reconfigures the situation so that you have to rethink your solution.  The enemy always has a say in the direction things are going to proceed.  Indeed, the whole world tends to reconfigure with every step we take.  No wonder the future is such a strange place, even though humans haven't changed much in the whole of recorded history.

Helmuth von Moltke, the military counterpart to Bismarck's political genius, was a master at planning, and re-planning, as a military campaign developed.  His successes against Austria (1866) and France (1870) paved the way for German unity, and led tangentially to the world wars.  His genius was the ability to plan in detail the movements of large armies (feeding, clothing, arming, transporting, organizing, etc.), without letting the massive plans control his sense of purpose.  When the plan didn't produce the exact result he expected, he re-planned using the new set of facts.

Anyone who has worked as an architect can see the similarities.  A large building is a complex thing involving materials from around the world, and a wide range of skills.  There are multiple "clients", and often a host of "enemies" who want to change or stop the project.

A good architect serves as a field marshal who coordinates the various specialists and generals, keeping the movement going toward an ultimate goal.  It might take time, effort, negotiation and detours, but the ultimate goal must be kept in mind.  Any one design cannot become the goal.  The best architects tend to be good at negotiating and coordinating: they could easily have made a name in diplomacy.

I don't think I could have made a good architect.  I have always been impatient of changes and talk.  If I have a vision in my head I want to get it down on paper immediately.  My aunt would understand: "talk is cheap", and "get it done right, do it yourself."  It is the ethic of the frontier, not the diplomat, but humans need both skills.

My aunt has made it into her 80's with a certain impatience, so it can't be such a bad approach.

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