Communication lessons from Afghanistan

These days in Greece we celebrate independence from Ottoman rule.  It was in essence guerilla warfare.  Greeks have a tradition of sorts in this type of war.  But of course the true and proven modern masters are the Afghans.  The greatest powers of the world have tried their best to conquer the place and failed.

In corporate communications and especially in selling ideas, we often emphasize the need to coordinate messages.   We try to aggregate them or centralize the sources.   We try to get disparate groups to converge around a single “authorized” source.   We do our best not to let some stray independent voice confuse the information market with conflicting views.   We want to be able to react quickly and without noise when necessary.

But that is not how the Afghans fight.   One of the main advantages they have, from the time they fought the British, to the Soviets and now the retreating Allies, is that they are not coordinated.   You can’t easily agree something with one of the tribal leaders and expect him to get the others nearby to follow him.     You will have to find your way through the mountains, risk getting shot by an AK47 and locate the next tribe yourself.  Then figure out the leader, then start a whole new conversation.   And – even if he agrees with your proposal – there is no way to guarantee that he will communicate to others in the way you want him to.

This is an encouraging and useful as a model for certain types of idea propagation.   Interest groups, from environmentalists to anarchists, often lament their lack of resources to create big communication machines similar to the multinationals or government agencies they are fighting.  They try to centralise information flows using social media.

But maybe it serves better to think like an Afghan warlord some times…

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