Save Your Ammo
Working across Cultures for National Security
Louise Rasmussen and Winston Sieck
Global Cognition, Yellow Springs, Ohio, 2020, 263 pages
Book Review published on: December 23, 2021
Save Your Ammo: Working across Cultures for National Security is a well-written, hands-on guidebook useful for anyone dealing in cultural engagements. Reading this book harkened me back to Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. This is one of those books that should be close to one’s desk, so that it can be referred to often for its myriad anecdotes and bulleted reminders at the end of each chapter. It can be used by all military and civilian diplomats who are about to engage or who are currently engaged overseas in a cross-cultural environment. The authors, Louise Rasmussen and Winston Sieck, are cofounders of Global Cognition, which focuses on cognition and education research. Their company uses research, training, and assessments to meet the goal of cultural competency in fast-paced and demanding environments.
The authors use a term called cultural competence that allows those with little time to train in cultural nuances to develop the ability to adapt quickly to new cultures and work with diverse groups of people. This book focuses on knowing the most essential skills and best practices for developing cultural competence. The authors conducted extensive studies with numerous individuals working in multiple overseas assignments. What are the skills and strategies that highly experienced national security professionals draw on to adapt quickly and work effectively in new cultures? The studies sought to answer this question.
The authors had two strict criteria for their studies, which allowed for a high degree of reliability. First, they wanted to ensure they were tapping into general skills that could be applied anywhere. Second, they studied subject matter experts (SMEs) who had recently deployed to two or more distinct regions and worked with diverse cultures on a regular basis. More than two hundred seasoned individuals—cultural SMEs—were interviewed. Rasmussen and Sieck dialogued with them about their challenges and the uncertainties working with their cultural partners. To get insights into the stories, the researchers used a technique called critical incident elicitation that allowed them to comb back through the initial stories revisiting crucial points to elicit self-assessments that informed behaviors and decisions.
The authors’ next process was to wade through the elicited interview information to ascertain common threads. The researchers sorted and categorized their findings to identify skills and strategies common to all. Rasmussen and Sieck then organized the skills, principles, and strategies they identified into twelve cultural competencies, which they called the Adaptive Readiness for Culture (ARC) model. One common set of skills applied across ranks, services, and specialties was that the SMEs took the perspective of the other culture they worked with to determine how to continue. They discovered that though a strategy may be the same between different individuals, situations could vary.
This book, in using the ARC model, focuses on tips, tactics, and strategies that have immediate practicality. To illustrate the principles, the authors incorporate selected stories and quotes from the ones who lived and practiced these cultural encounters on a regular basis. Each ensuing chapter focuses on one of the twelve ARC competencies. One of the chapters focuses on building relationships to accomplish the mission by describing ways that cultural understanding and relationships help one do one’s job.
Another chapter focuses on learning about cultures in fun and innovative ways by taking a proactive approach to learning focused on one’s own interests. The example discussed in the book involves initiating a conversation by asking questions on topics that are of a local interest. The topic may be about sports, TV shows, and even local humor and satire. An SME discovered a local area’s comic strips revealed foreign influences, a lack of high-speed internet, and unreliable public services. Relatable experiences like these allowed him to start conversations in these areas.
In order to reflect and seek feedback on daily and weekly experiences, while making sense of puzzling situations, a portion of the book focuses on how to learn more from daily encounters and handle what seemed to be shocking behavior.
This book is highly recommended to all persons who work with diverse populations or are about to for any length of time. The techniques are easy enough allowing for interweaving with other lessons, strategies, and skills. This will allow for cultural engagement even if the practitioner is a novice to the culture. It will also allow one the opportunity to gain trust, influence, and cooperation by considering the point of view of others from different cultures.
Book Review written by: Stephen S. Harvey, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas