January 3, 2012

Tim Mahon and the Training & Simulation Forum (Part Two)

It’s the New Year and now is when we start re-engaging with our journalist friends. In Part One of our interview with Tim, he shared with us that while print won’t die, online is a great place for meaningful conversation. In today's post, Tim discusses the value of events like I/ITSEC to generating stories and gives us a little insight into the integrity of his writing.
DTP: Where do you get your story ideas from?
TM: A good question, to which there are many answers. The simplest response, however, is the most critical – it’s people. Press releases, news wire stories, unsolicited PR pitches and the material gathered during press visits are extremely important sources of inspiration, but it’s people that really motivate the creation of an enduring story.
As an example, having spent four event-filled days at I/ITSEC in Orlando, there were 29 news stories that are gradually finding their way on to the Forum. But it would not be an exaggeration to say there are close to 100 story ideas that stem from meeting and talking with individuals at the show. Yes, we want to cover news as it emerges and ensure we are timely in bringing important events and successes to public knowledge. More crucial to the overall aim of the Forum, however, are the ideas prompted by casual conversation.
For instance, Presagis offered their media roundtable in its fourth iteration during the show. With members of the media in an intimate and engaging environment facing members of the supply side of the industry – not just Presagis, but Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Cubic and Raytheon – the 90 minute conversation has given rise to a dozen threads I am now pursuing to bring to the Forum early in 2012.
DTP: Who would be your dream interview? Or, what topic would you most like to cover?
Photo Credit: Jacques-Louis David
TM: Napoleon, I think. I have been fascinated by the man since I was a teenager and I am struck by the fact that there have been more words written about him than any other figure except Christ. I am busy translating his correspondence in my copious free time these days and I cannot decide whether he was a genius or a megalomaniac, a competent executive or a compulsive micromanager. I would love to ask him about his approach to training and education, however. His epoch, following on the heels of the Age of Enlightenment, was characterized by the emergence of a literate middle- and lower-class.  His contemporaries began to pay attention to the exploitation of individual talent and the deployment of human capital and I firmly believe he would have a great deal to say on the subject of training, both from a military and a macro-social perspective. After all, if you scratch a Frenchman, you find a philosopher; they are a nation that loves to debate abstract ideas and make them live.

As to a favourite topic, one that I am permanently attracted to is whether trainers see talent as a recruitment or a training issue. In other words, are great military leaders born (and therefore the challenge is to identify them at an early stage in the recruitment process) or can they be created? Can you instill genius in an otherwise anodyne character?
The answer, inevitably, is a mixture of both. But it is intensely interesting to listen to the varying philosophies. I am hoping shortly to interview a leading Michelin starred chef in London who has a reputation for finding and training the stars of tomorrow. There is a paradigm hiding away in his methodology which might be of interest to us all – particularly as government contracts increasingly seek to leverage benefits and lessons learned from the private sector’s methods of being smart about innovation and development.
DTP: What keeps you writing about the defence market?
TM: The “boys and their toys” angle is an inevitable one, I suppose. The equipment and major platforms that dominate the market about which I write are just cool – there’s no other word for it. But that is a transient and somewhat ephemeral reason for continuing to focus on this market.
The real reason is I believe it to be a critically important area of human activity. The right to self defence in one form or another is enshrined in every major democratic declaration in history, from Magna Carta to the NATO treaty. Preservation of tranquility and a safe environment for its citizens is (or should be) the primary raison d’être of every government.
And there is a reason this is called the DEFENCE market, not the OFFENCE market. I am truly tired of the knee-jerk, ill-informed point of view that brands every defence company or individual as a merchant of death. What I call the “British Robots Bombed My Baby In Baluchistan” type headline is sloppy journalism, spectacularly ill-informed and doesn’t serve any purpose other than a destructive one. By bringing three decades of experience, exposure and opinion vis-à-vis the defence market, I hope to be able to contribute to squaring the circle and inspiring better informed discussion.
Nick Friberg, President at BAE Systems C-ITS in Stockholm promulgated the idea of a “trusted community” in the T&S field a couple of years ago – a point at which the Forum was a nascent idea. Our work in the Forum is intended to support that concept, empower individuals to build or reinforce professional, enduring relationships and to create an environment in which everybody from the Chief of the Defence Staff to Joe Public understands the essential nature of defence in general and the military T&S ethos in particular. In the final analysis, it is about the preservation of life on an individual and collective basis, not the taking of it. And how can that be anything but one of our most important activities as a society?


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