Friday, October 16, 2009

Tom Kratman's Teaching Method

Tom Kratman used to be a military officer. A large part of his job, and probably one of his favorites, was training subordinates(1). Now he just doesn't have the heart to do it. Literally, it was a heart problem that prevented him from going into the 2nd Gulf War.

Now he writes military science fiction for Baen. However, he still wants to teach about the military. You'd get some training just from reading his books. Using stories to teach is hardly new, but Tom Kratman does one better. Every week he posts a snippet of one of his prepublished books on Baen's Bar. That kicks off a thread discussing the reasons for various actions, how to train people to do them better, etc.

This technique is a fun way to do case studies. I wonder if it can be fit into a business context, and if so if that can be made sufficiently interesting.

(1) I think that's a large part of everybody in the military above a certain rank. They do a lot more training than civilian industry, for two reasons:

1. Good enough isn't. In industry we can set a standard and say anything above that is acceptable. In the military, where every additional bit of performance could save lives on your side, nothing is good enough. Whatever you do, some very smart people on the other side will try to undo.

2. Rapid capacity expansion. In industry, if we currently need n people to do a certain job, we train n peopl, maybe a few more. If we'll need to increase the capacity, we'll train then. The demands on the average company don't change that quickly. In the military, one day the US might be at peace. The next day, Saddam invades Kuwait and there's need to protect the Saudi oil fields right now. No time to train a few extra divisions.