Part of Malcolm Gladwell’s text discusses the idea of spontaneity (meaning:  coming from a natural impulse; without effort or premeditation; unplanned) and how even the most spontaneous decisions can be shaped and managed by experience.

He offers the case study of Paul Van Riper, a high-ranking military commander tasked with playing the role of rogue militant leader of the Red Team, an opposing force participating in the war game scenario Millennium Challenge.  Despite his impressive military history and years of government training, Van Riper chose to forego all of that training as he led his group of insurgents against an overwhelming opposing force.  Much to everyone’s surprise, his decision was a good one; he was successful and vanquished the Blue Team, leaving sixteen Blue Team ships at the bottom of the Persian Gulf (110).

How did that happen?  How could a military commander win by essentially forgetting all of the things he had learned over the course of his career?

After some reflection and analysis, it was determined that, quite simply, Van Riper’s spontaneous reactions to the Millenium Challenge caught the opponent by surprise.  Van Riper stated, “The first thing I told our staff is that we could be in command and out of control” (118).   He essentially predicted what the other side was expecting of his team and made sure to react in a way that was counterintuitive to his military training.   His approach was a remarkable success.

My question to you is this:  How does that scenario relate to your own college experience?

As you begin your freshman year, you will find yourself placed in situations that will challenge your previous years of academic training.  You will be placed in groups for group projects with complete strangers; you will be asked to balance multiple classes with conflicting deadlines; you will be asked to prep for several major exams, likely to be delivered in the same week (or even on the same day!).

How will you be out of control and yet still remain in charge enough to overcome the challenges placed before you?   What does Gladwell say about achieving that balance?

Advertisements