What slows down armies and businesses during execution? Clausewitz on the Fog of War and Friction (Video #6)

This series is dedicated to Karl von Clausewitz, the West’s most famous (and least read) philosopher of war.

In this video, you’ll hear:

  • Clausewitz identified two factors that affect armies during wartime. They also apply to you and your organization. They are the “fog of war” and “friction.” They are natural and cannot be avoided.
  • The “fog of war” refers to uncertainty in execution. Armies, back in the day of Napoleon, had limited information on what the enemy was doing in real-time. This uncertainty plagued operations. Clausewitz identified its cause: war is a duel of moral forces. The fact is people are unpredictable creatures, especially when put under extreme situations. This unpredictability often slowed progress, compelling generals to deviate from their plans, no matter how intricate they were. In effect, the “fog of war” represents a gap between planning and execution. It is the discrepancy between expectations and reality; what we want to do versus what we actually do.
  • What causes the “fog of war?” Clausewitz said it is “friction,” the accumulation of unexpected, and often undesired factors, that you face in execution. It is the natural resistance we all face in pursuit of our goals. External friction are factors outside our control. For armies, this could be weather, lack of roads to march on, or even surrounding nations that unexpectedly decide to participate in the war. For business it could the economy, business regulation or strategic inflection points. Internal friction also exists. For armies, it could be desertion or bad situational decision-making; for businesses it could be heavy attrition or mismanagement of resources.

If these factors are natural, and unavoidable, what can we do to mitigate them? Clausewitz says there is a remedy, and it is leadership, the subject of the next video blog.