How Doctrine Works

How do you apply what you believe? What guides your decisions in life?

One of the qualities that separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to recognize patterns and apply those patterns to solve new problems.

OK, so what does that mean?

Kitties of Doctrine.jpgCats can’t read. Dogs do not understand human language. We can train animals to behave in different ways, triggered by pattern responses, but not with consistency. Pavlov trained dogs to salivate at the sound of the bell, because he conditioned the dogs to expect food when they heard the bell. While you can train a dog to do their business outdoors, dogs can’t read books to learn how to go outdoors. We train them, using rewards and punishment to get their attention.

To train pets, we immerse them in the behavior we want them to adopt. We watch them. We pay attention to them. We praise them when they behave the right way, engage in interdiction when we see them about to fail, and punish them when they misbehave.

Humans can understand patterns and then rationally use those patterns to solve problems. That ability allows us to create language, stories, systems, machines, and processes. Humans can learn through education—we read, listen to the thinking of others, and then apply that knowledge to our own needs. We can teach someone to read, to recognize patterns of ink on a page. With the skill of reading, humans can learn on their own, if the material is available.

But what if the material is not available?

A Lack of Knowledge and a Lack of Material

Consider the history of writing. Before the modern age, only the most learned people knew how to read and write. The scribes of ancient Egypt learned their skills in special schools and followed in the footsteps of their scribe fathers. In many cases, the nobles they served could not read. The early scribes also served as bookkeepers.

Education spread, and more people of means learned how to read and write. Still, only the wealthy could afford to educate their children and themselves. Even into the Renaissance, kings and queens engaged the finest thinkers of the age to teach them. Rene Descartes earned his pay teaching math to Sweden’s Queen Christina. For the most part, unless you were rich, or you became a Catholic priest or monk, reading and writing was out of the question.

So how did people learn before they could read? Indoctrination.

Indoctrination is a term that people have awkward feelings about. Repetitive training is a form of indoctrination. Training an animal is a form of indoctrination. The idea is to get the animal to absorb the training without critical thought. While we don’t know if animals can think (though there is research that suggests they do), we know that giving a dog a book about housebreaking is not going to deliver the desired outcome.

People feel awkward about indoctrination for a number of reasons. No matter how awkward it may be, it is still one of the strongest ways to train people, to change behavior, to overcome resistance. The idea gives people pause because of the names associated with historical negative uses of indoctrination—Hitler, Jim Jones, etc. People think about indoctrination by churches, military boot camp, or pledging a fraternity. Look up the term in Wikipedia and you will find an uneven presentation, focused on religious indoctrination.landmine-doctrine.png

While there are always two sides to every coin, there are, at minimum, three sides to every story. Indoctrination is one of the examples of at least three sides to the story. There is the bad, the benign, and the good. Indoctrination is nothing but a tool to transfer knowledge, so the practice in and of itself is not bad or good. What matters—what makes indoctrination good, bad, or benign—is the intent of the user of the tool.

Indoctrination surrounds us. Every organization indoctrinates its members. Parents indoctrinate their children. Companies indoctrinate new employees. Political parties indoctrinate their followers. While each organization does engage in overt cognitive education in the form of formal training and teaching, indoctrination is how the organization teaches its social norms, the way people communicate, the hierarchy, and all the subtle ways people interact.

Like it or not, indoctrination is how most employers train associates. On-the-job (OTJ) training is just one form of indoctrination. OTJ is an uncontrolled indoctrination in which the employer has absolute control over what is taught, and exercises a degree of control over the new employee. When a company HR department invests in a video production or specific training courses to train new employees, they use another form of doctrinal control. The first example is ad hoc, without design, the other is planned and by design.

Here is a key question to think through as a leader:  what form really delivers the organization’s desired outcome?

Perhaps neither one.

Revisiting the Six Steps

Let’s revisit the six steps of Bidirectional Doctrine:

  1. Through experience
  2. A group of people develops a set of beliefs
  3. That they test, prove, modify and understand to be true
  4. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.
  5. They codify those beliefs in speech, writing and demonstration
  6. To gain leadership approval of an established doctrine.

Developing doctrine is an intentional effort. Someone has to follow the sequence. As we learned previously, the process can start in the middle of an organization, in the shadows. Senior management can drive doctrine, encouraging middle management to formally develop doctrine.

Indoctrination exists. It is up to leaders to decide how to shape the doctrine used to indoctrinate their followers. In many cases, those leaders are not at the top of the organization; they are in the middle. Doctrine is fundamental to the formation of strategy, the creation of tactics, and the guidance of operations. Ignoring Doctrine because it involves Indoctrination is not wise. It exists, and will become at best benign without guidance.

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