Tactical and Technical

On Military Creativity via NDU Press

By The Cove May 16, 2019


When we think of people as being 'creative,' the first professions that come to our minds are generally artists, musicians, writers, actors and perhaps that work in educating young children.  There would be a strong case to suggest that most people would not naturally list military professionals as a group commonly associated with creativity (in fact quite the opposite).  This article 'On Military Creativity' by Milan Vego via NDU Press, suggests that military success is not possible without creative minds.  He states that "War is largely an art, not a science.  Hence it is inherent that military commanders and their staff must be highly creative in planning, preparation and employing their forces for combat."

The author argues that in contrast to their civilian counterparts, members of the military are forced to practice their creativity within a narrow framework which is subject to an abundance of rules and regulations.  He suggests that the main obstacles to military creativity are imposed by the hierarchical command structure, bureaucratised system, conformity, parochialism, and anti-intellectualism, and that these pressures have a tendency to reduce creativity in leaders to mediocrity.

"The military needs the stability of conformity so it can successfully function in peacetime and in war.  Yet experience shows that military organisations that succumb to conformity eventually decline."  The author also states that it is common for militaries to lack tolerance of views that diverge from the 'mainstream,' and it is this intolerance that stifles discussion of professional topics in peacetime.  He suggests that higher commanders should avoid setting the tone of professional debate in order to avoid the unintentional effect they may have on stifling views and free expression of ideas. "Critical thinking should be the norm and not the exception."

At the Cove, we recommend you and your sub-unit team read this article and get together to discuss the following in an informal environment (make sure everyone has the chance to express their views, leaders should avoid setting the tone first and allow their junior members to speak first):

  1. Do you agree with the authors suggestions that creativity is important in the military?
  2. Do you think the Australian Army is doing enough to encourage creativity? As a team, do you know the avenues currently available for members to pitch ideas and engage in professional discussion?  What could we do to make these more accessible and well known to a broader audience?
  3. Where do you think the 'line' is, or how do we achieve better balance in military organisations between the 'need' for order and conformity to continue functioning effectively as a fighting force, and creating an environment where individuals are free to think creatively and express their opinions on any subject without creating chaos?




The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


The Belbin Team Role Model, also referenced in Army Leadership pam, features 9 behavioural clusters (Team Roles) of which the Role of "Plant" is typically the one most associated with creative thinking. In large organisations, the ADF in particular perhaps, strong Plants can often be stifled and poorly managed so as to reduce or negate their creative abilities and contributions to innovation. The Belbin Model helps measure, understand and discuss strengths and weaknesses within teams to enable better performance and capabilities. We are the Australian Distributor for Belbin and would be delighted to explore how Plants could be better identified, managed and nurtured within Defence.

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