Developing the touch

Ibis raised an interesting question in one of his comments:  If Fingerspitzengefühl can be taught, why do so few people have it?

Two points:  First, Fingerspitzengefühl is a skill, so although most people can get better at it, some are going to get a lot better.

Second, it’s a strange kind of skill, not for performing complicated or even dangerous tasks mystically well, but for sensing what is going on among groups of people in conflict and then influencing what happens.

If you learn juggling, for example, and get so good that people go “Wow!  How did she do that?” the clubs still obey simple laws of motion, pretty much f=m•a. You may do amazing things, but it’s all predictable, at least in theory, and you can learn them yourself under good coaching and maybe a practice partner to help.

The first problem in learning Fingerspitzengefühl is that you can’t learn it by yourself.  You have to have at least two groups of people to practice with — your team and some opponents.  And to develop this skill, you have to practice a lot, because people, unlike clubs, don’t obey laws as simple as f=m•a.  And you have to practice influencing your own team — call that “leadership” — while also influencing the opposition — call that “strategy.”  And you have to learn it in increasingly unstructured and even threatening situations, under varying time constraints. This is the concept behind Vandergriff’s adaptive leader methodology, which I’ve referred to before.

If your conflict is business, not war, then it’s even more complex because you have to influence both customers and competitors (and the relationship between the two), not to mention your own team.

So you can see that Fingerspitzengefühl is hard to practice.  Many military organizations just don’t provide the opportunity to hone it as a skill (my military training in the 1960s and ’70s offered virtually none) or enough for people to get good at it.  On the other hand, some companies do this quite well, particularly in those sales training organizations that stress role playing.

Here’s Boyd quoting Blumentritt (Patterns, 74):

… an officers training institution which allows the subordinate a very great measure of freedom of action and freedom in the manner of executing orders and which primarily calls for independent daring, initiative and sense of responsibility.

or as he put it in Organic Design (23):

Arrange setting and circumstances so that leaders and subordinates alike are given the opportunity to continuously interact with external world, and with each other, in order to more quickly make many-sided implicit cross-referencing projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections as well as create the similar images or impressions, hence a similar implicit orientation, needed to form an organic whole.

It’s important to note that while you’re building Fingerspitzengefühl, you’re also building Einheit, that is, mutual trust and a common outlook.  That statement has a lot of implications …

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