Start. Just Start – PME and the fear of writing.

By Rebecca Marlow.

Through the Logistics in War and over the past two years Dave Beaumont has been challenging logisticians to think and write about their profession. It is important to our profession that we have a robust discussion and challenge perceptions and conceptions there may be about our trade. Earlier this year he challenged all logisticians to write, which had me ponder, ‘why don’t we?’ Sounds easy right? We’re all subject matter experts and we have opinions. We also have a wealth of experience. This could have come from a deployment, or as a consequence of serving in the different units and headquarters of the military. Why then is it so hard write? What is it that stops us from tapping away at the keyboard and delivering our hard-won wisdom to the masses?

Logistics in War is one of a number of Australian resources that have sprung up over the past three years encouraging readers to invest in their own professional development, usually under the banner of ‘professional military education’ (PME). PME is not specifically tied to our career progression model, and I believe that it is really about encouraging all ranks to self-improve; becoming ‘better’ at their core roles and is of ‘essential value’ to paraphrase the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr. This interest in professional mastery is not restricted to military circles, and I have observed that many professions have started to take an interest, especially in the last decade or so.

The way in which Army ‘delivers’ its PME has changed significantly from when I was a junior Captain. The days of being assigned a reading and delivering a power point presentation on some supposedly relevant topic in the Mess as part of the Regiments’ training program for officers are but a distant memory. The proliferation of blogs, podcasts, websites and Facebook groups attest to the interest in PME across the globe.  This ‘Prezi’ at Grounded Curiosity just shows how big the network really is, and where unofficial PME can be found. As Army’s operational tempo reduces, its focus is returning to the education and professionalisation of our Army and not only ‘doing the job’. This is not about pseudo-intellectualism, but reflects the need to prepare one another for whatever possibility might come. PME is one way we can do this individually.

To make the most of PME, to encourage a conversation and ideas, I believe that we need to embrace both reading and writing aspects. Reading and expanding personal knowledge is easy; publishing a reading list is easy. I believe an aspect of true professional leadership is in the sharing of knowledge, and without writing and analysis of what we are reading we do not make the most of what we read. No one of us understands the whole picture and it is in the sharing their views that we can seek the contribution of others to make our own vision a little clearer.

There is opportunity in a group training environment to use writing to alleviate the group think that inevitably arises in discussion groups. Asking students to write an anonymous piece on their understanding and having others lead discussions on the article is one good method of training. Why should it be anonymous? I think that the reason people don’t write, don’t contribute to the sharing of knowledge, is because of fear. If all ideas can be discussed and presented without the fear of being proven less knowledgeable than we’d like, we might see a true ‘contest of ideas’. We might see a greater sharing of knowledge which could have more of an impact on our collective understanding of the issues that are viewed as important, or even change our understanding of what is actually important. By doing this even the quietest, most introverted person in the group has the ability to contribute to the conversation. Being quiet does not make a person’s ideas any less valid.

Thus I return to my earlier question, why then is it so hard to write? For myself it is fear. Fear that I actually have no idea what I’m talking about. Fear that my peers will laugh at my feeble attempts to articulate my ideas. Fear that, in fact, I am completely, totally and utterly wrong. What then is the solution? Start. Really, that is it. Just start. Write for yourself, write like no one is reading, because really, at the end of the day it is you that you are writing for. While there may be truth in ‘If nobody reads it, what’s the point?’ it is your own professional development and your own improvement as an officer and leader that you are seeking. It is your own ideas and understanding that you are unpacking and getting it down on a page will enhance your own understanding of what it is that you do. Sharing those thoughts and ideas may prompt someone else to do the same and grow our collective understanding and knowledge.

Rebecca Marlow is a serving Army officer.

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