Idea to Action: The West Point Negotiation Project

By: Luke Hutchison

When it comes to creating change in the largest bureaucracy on earth – the Department of Defense – it can often seem like a challenging, if not impossible, task.  However, there are some Intrapreneurs who have seen a problem, developed a solution, mobilized support around it and gone on to have a significant impact on the DoD.  The story of the West Point Negotiation Project (WPNP) provides a great example of leaders who have done just that, and in this case significantly impacted the way that our military negotiates today.  At the upcoming DEFxColorado at the Air Force Academy on August 12th we’ll be highlighting the story of WPNP and many others organizations that have created a positive change and drove innovation in the defense community.

Identifying a Problem

In 2003 then Captain Aram Donigian deployed with an Infantry Battalion to Eastern Afghanistan where part of his job required resolving disputes with local Afghans.  One dispute in particular, with an influential gas station owner in the area, had frustrated the previous unit and had spilled into Aram’s deployment.  The gas station owner had seen his business close as a result of American activity in the area and had filed a claim to recoup his lost business as well as save face for what had happened to him.  Like most Army leaders who deployed at the time, Aram had no formal negotiation training and simply used some ‘common sense’ to resolve the dispute.  Aram made a low-ball ‘take it or leave it’ offer and resolved the dispute, turned the tracker from red to green and earned praise from his chain of command.

Following his Command time, Aram went on to the MBA program at the Tuck School of Business where he met Professor Jeff Weiss, an experienced negotiator with nearly 30 years of negotiation experience and recent author of Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Negotiating.  It was there in Jeff’s course that Aram realized the Principled Negotiation approach taught in the course would have helped him achieve a much better outcome in Afghanistan.  The approach was first described in the book Getting To Yes and advocates four fundamental principles of negotiation: 1) separate the people from the problem; 2) focus on interests, not positions; 3) invent options for mutual gain; and 4) insist on objective criteria.  The positional approach that he used damaged any possibility of having an effective relationship with an influential Afghan leader who could have been a valuable source for intelligence and ally to influence other leaders in the area.  With this in mind, Aram went on to teach the negotiation course at West Point which had just started a couple years earlier in 2006.

Soon after Aram started teaching at West Point though, he began receiving calls from some of the course’s early graduates who had started arriving at their units.  The newly commissioned officers found themselves using the Principled Negotiation approach they’d been taught on a regular basis and especially deployed.  At the time there was some negotiation and key leader engagement training occurring in the Army, but most approaches lacked the systematic approach and results, that the Principled Negotiation approach offered.  Graduates of the course increasingly found themselves being asked by their Commanders to reach back to West Point for more resources and training so they could then teach their units Principled Negotiation.

Developing a Solution

Seeing the need for more Principled Negotiation training beyond just the 60 cadets being taught in the course each year, Aram and Jeff co-founded the West Point Negotiation Project in 2009 to enhance the ability of military leaders to engage in the complex and challenging negotiations they face in both peace and combat situations.  One of the biggest impacts the project has had was in 2010 after Aram, Jeff and their colleague Jonathan Hughes published Extreme Negotiations in the Harvard Business Review which highlighted a number of extreme negotiations military leaders had deployed.  An instructor at the Navy SEAL’s Platoon Leaders Course read the article and contacted Aram to see if they could provide a Mobile Training Team for SEALs going through the course.  Aram obliged and cadets and faculty from WPNP began flying to train Navy SEALs going through the course year after year.  The project also provided consulting work for then Brigadier General H.R. McMaster’s anti-corruption task force, Shafafiyat (Transparency).  Aram served as the task force’s Chief of Engagements while cadets from the project worked on specific issues for the task force back at West Point.

The project has also helped drive the conversation on how the US military negotiates through other articles such as Failure to Engage:  Current Negotiation Strategies and Approaches” in Military Review and Beyond Formality:  A Better Way to Negotiate in Afghanistan” in the Armed Forces Journal.  WPNP has also directly shaped doctrine such as the writing of the Army Training Network Task’s “Prepare for a Cross Cultural Negotiation” and “Conduct a Cross Cultural Negotiation” and also contributed to the revision of the leader competency ‘Extend Influence Beyond the Chain of Command’ in ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership and ensured the language in the manual built on what had been taught by WPNP over the preceding years.

Going on almost a decade now, WPNP continues to have an outsized impact on the way the military negotiates.  It continues to send Mobile Training Teams to various units, hosts an annual conference for 100 cadets from across the country and has written cases and other material specific to the negotiations military leaders face.  Thousands of cadets and military leaders from every branch of service in the DoD, and even a few Canadians, have now been exposed to Principled Negotiation as a result of the West Point Negotiation Project.

Learn More at DEFxColorado

To hear Aram’s story and other Intrapreneurs in our military who have not just seen problems in the military – but actually done something about them – join us on August 12th at the Air Force Academy for the inaugural DEFxColorado.  Our keynote speaker will be Brigadier General Andrew Armacost the Dean of the Faculty at the Air Force Academy who has been a champion of innovative initiatives such as the creation of the technological innovation program at USAFA where cadets develop new technologies for military and civilian use and the launch of Air Force Cyberworx.  We then have an all-star speaker lineup of current and former military leaders who have founded new organizations, led innovation in counter-terrorism units, written articles for the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Military Review and elsewhere and spearheaded the fastest weapon system delivered from concept to combat since the P-51 Mustang in World War II.

In addition to hearing some awesome stories about innovation, we’ll also learn and apply tools to drive innovation.  We’re combining two pre-existing tools to create the “Intrapreneur’s Toolbox” which combines Influence Strategies based off of the Principled Negotiation approach described earlier and Lean Startup principles based of off the Hacking 4 Defense course started at Stanford University.   We will form groups around current challenges, apply these concepts, and then pitch them to a Shark Tank style panel.

Most importantly though, there will be plenty of time to connect with other innovators and Intrapreneurs throughout the day and during our two happy hours.  In the book How Google Works, the authors discuss how a Google hiring philosophy is to “Hire enough great people, and the resulting intellectual mixture will inevitably combust into creativity and success.”[1] Although no one is being hired, we intend for that combustion of creativity to happen at DEFxColorado and spread across Colorado’s Front Range.  Along with the new relationships built, we hope to see tangible results as well, such as universities establishing Hacking 4 Defense programs and partnering with the numerous military bases within the state to solve national security challenges from the ground up and providing civilian students a way to contribute to our national security in a meaningful way.  We look forward to seeing you at the inaugural DEFxColorado and joining the combustion.

Luke Hutchison and Joe Byerly are both Army officers stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado and are also facilitators for DEFxColorado. For additional information or to register for DEFxColorado visit our website or email Luke at

[1] How Google Works (p. 23).

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Your Landing Attitude and How to ‘Be’ in Transition


Under Canopy over Grim Reaper Drop Zone, Sheik Isa Air Base, Bahrain – Daniel C. Hodne, Colonel (USA, Retired)

By Daniel Hodne

Exiting an aircraft flying at 130 knots makes for an unnatural, turbulent, and adrenaline-charged experience.

Career change, in many respects, shares similar qualities.

In other words, the moment you’ve fully committed yourself to such a transition, you’ve exited the aircraft.

Military static-line parachuting necessitates actions, some of them reflexive, from properly stepping out the door (or off the ramp) to descending and landing safely. These actions may serve as metaphors for the checklist of a job transition process, with steps to be taken, and choices to be made when seeking a new position or industry.

They represent what you should do.

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The 2017 Ultimate Summer Reading List


By Joe Byerly

Last summer I reached out to friends from around the national security community and asked what they were reading. The collective list became a hit, and for me personally, became the bulk of my reading material for the remainder of 2016. This year I decided to continue the tradition with the hopes of introducing works to readers that they might not have been familiar with before coming across this post. I hope you enjoy the list and find something that you will read while sitting on the beach this summer!

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The Top Ten Things I Learned in Squadron Command


LTC Foster uncases the 4-10 Cavalry Colors during a ceremony in Europe


By: LTC Chad Foster

I learned a lot over two years in command of a Cavalry Squadron. I also re-learned many things that I had discovered during earlier assignments, but these lessons gained a new and broader context when experienced from a Commander’s perspective. The list that follows is not definitive. However, I hope that this “top 10,” as imperfect and incomplete as it is, might be helpful to some of those lucky enough to be taking command at any level in the future.

1. To truly command, you must have the courage to give up some control.

You MUST allow your subordinate leaders to do their jobs – That sounds obvious, right? But there can be a strong temptation to control everything. After all, YOU are the Commander, the most experienced and (to that point, at least) the most professionally successful officer in the battalion. Those who are focused on their own advancement, tend to obsess about “looking bad” in front of the boss. Everything MUST be perfect, so they feel like they must control it.

No matter how strong this urge might become, fight it. Fight it with all you’ve got. Your subordinate leaders and soldiers will never develop effectively and your unit will never fully harness the power and talent of its members unless you give up some control. If you are controlling, it likely that you aren’t commanding anything. While there are times when you have to closely monitor and control actions, these are the exceptions, not the norm. Give intent rather than directives whenever possible and trust your subordinates with the freedom to maneuver while pursuing that intent. Any short term setbacks that might occur are well worth the long term developmental benefits to the unit and to those young soldiers, NCOs, and officers.

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Let’s Talk #DRAFTFM30


Have you ever read an Army Field Manual and wished you could have added your two cents prior to it accumulating dust on your office shelf? Now’s your chance.

The Strategy Bridge, The Military Leader, and From the Green Notebook are excited to announce that beginning on May 14th we are hosting a three week series focused on the current Draft of Field Manual (FM) 3-0: Army Operations. Each week one of our sites will post a question or series of questions on our Facebook pages for discussion. Answers and feedback will be sent directly to the authors of FM 3-0 for consideration.

The Army Chief of Staff (CSA) asked Training and Doctrine Command and the Combined Arms Center to write a new FM 3-0 to address, in a comprehensive fashion, how the Army conducts operations in an operational environment where the prospect of large scale combat against a capable regional peer adversary is no longer unthinkable. The CSA determined that the Army lacked adequate doctrine to account for large scale combat operations in a multi-domain environment, what happens during operations short of large scale combat, and how to exploit tactical success by consolidating gains to achieve enduring results.

As a result, the Army has developed a Field Manual that is organized according to the Army’s strategic roles as part of the joint force: Operations to Shape, Operations to Prevent, Operations to Win (offense and defense), and Operations to Consolidate Gains. All operations are conducted for a purpose that should inform what the Army does – and how. Field Manual 3-0 makes adjustments to the operational framework and how the Army thinks about it, and that the most likely paths to victory during operations are in the context of current force structure, capabilities, and threats. The authors argue that all combat is multi-domain, and has been for a long time. What is new is how we account for cyberspace and the dynamic information environment, and the idea of orchestrating and synchronizing capabilities across multiple domains to converge effects against an opponent. The Army has significant capability gaps against some potential opponents in some parts of the world, which is why we specify that current adversaries are regional peers. How the Army solves tactical problems will vary from theater to theater, but the one constant is that regional peers can contest U.S. land, air, space, maritime, and cyberspace capabilities in ways we’ve not dealt with in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army can no longer depend upon the Joint Force to solve its tactical problems. A company or battalion that goes to ground for more than a few minutes after making contact with the enemy, waiting on airstrikes against an enemy with viable IADS and fires complexes, is likely to be destroyed. This is an old problem for Cold Warriors, but it is a new problem for those without those formative training experiences. There are few with that experience in our divisions and brigades now; almost none in our battalions.

Download the Draft FM 3-0 chapters here and come join the conversation at our Facebook pages over the coming weeks.

Posting Schedule:

May 14: Strategy Bridge Posts questions for Chapters 1-2

May 21: Military Leader Posts questions for Chapter 3-5

May 28: From the Green Notebook Posts Questions for Chapters 6-8



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“Wall Walk” Yourself and Your Team to Better Briefings and Papers


By: Colonel Michael Lawhorn

I have delivered, and I have been on the receiving end of less than stellar briefings that usually involve a lot of tedious Power Point slides.

Now there is plenty of advice out there both on personal briefing techniques and how to make better slides. In fact, on my short professional reading list, is Garr Reynolds’s Presentation Zen, which is both a book and a blog dedicated to helping people create and deliver better briefings.

Another way to help you create quality presentations can be by using a helpful technique called the “Wall Walk”. This technique is something I learned while serving on the Joint Staff’s Deployable Training Team.

Our team would deploy around the world to major military exercises, and after the exercise was complete, we would conduct a Wall Walk to create post-exercise (or After Action Review) briefings to the four-star commanding generals and their staffs.

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When Organizational Change Goes Wrong

AF Space Operations

By Dan Sanders

Five months into my Air Force operations officer tour, my boss and I reflected on how we were doing. I came to the conclusion that while we had made great strides in achieving his vision of unifying our team, and professionalizing the organization as a whole, we also stumbled hard along the way. We tried to implement change too quickly and the organization wasn’t ready for that. As a result, we created more friction than necessary.

Luckily, at the time of that conversation, I happened to be reading Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Their message was simple and powerful.  “Leaders must own everything in their world.  There is no one else to blame.” In the month or so since that conversation with my commander, I have spent a lot of time thinking about those early months in the squadron.  Experience is a great teacher if we’re willing to learn.  Hopefully some of you won’t have to stick your hand on the hot stove and you can learn from my mistakes.

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Turning Defeat into Development


Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows

By Joe Byerly

On September 14, 1923, over 80,000 spectators packed into the New York City Polo Grounds to watch one of the most famous prizefights in boxing history. The heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey, who stood at 6’1 and weighed around 185 pounds, defended his title against Luis Firpo, the Wild Bull of Pampas. Firpo had two inches on Dempsey and outweighed him by thirty-five pounds. This matchup was so popular it didn’t even need commercials or Facebook ads to promote it. For example, Dempsey’s train-up prior to the fight drew 3,000 people a day to watch the champ prepare and the gate alone drew $1.2 million- in 1920’s money!

As soon as the bell rang, the two fighters gave everyone their money’s worth. Within the first few minutes, both boxers found themselves on their backs after some brutal exchanges. Dempsey knocked Firpo down seven times in the first round and he probably thought he had the fight in the bag. With less than thirty seconds remaining, Firpo caught Dempsey with a blow that sent him through the ropes (head first) onto one of the tables below. The referee began his count.

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When War Comes Home: An Interview



I heard about American War back in December, and finally got my hands on a copy a few days after it was available for purchase. After reading the first couple of pages, I was hooked. It wasn’t only the subject matter that pulled me in, but the way in which Omar El Akkad writes brings his story into vivid color.  I recently caught up with the author and we discussed American War. 

Joe: Omar, the title of your debut novel is the first thing that caught my eye several months ago. Can you tell us what American War: A Novel is about?

Omar: American War tells the story of a second American civil war that takes place about 60 years from now. The war begins after the federal government decides to impose a prohibition on the use of fossil fuels. Even though most of the world has moved on to other sources of fuel by then, and climate change has destroyed much of the U.S. coastline and drowned Florida entirely, a number of southern states still decide to secede rather than go along with prohibition. The novel follows the Chestnuts, a family living in southernmost Louisiana, as they are displaced from their home by war and forced into a southern refugee camp.

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Lead Like a CHAMPION

Public Affairs Supervisor Advanced Leader Course, Class 501–17, posing after a physical fitness test.

By SSG Alex R. Ramos

The sport of boxing has had a rich tradition in my family. My father used to box, my uncles and cousins were pugilists, even my grandma laced up the gloves to practice the sport.

My dad, Rafael Ramos, has been inducted into three different Halls of Fame (at the time of this commentary) for his role as a professional boxing referee. He never wanted me to box, and because of that reason, I did not start training until I was 16, which is considered a late age to start the discipline when compared to elite boxers.

One of my father’s friends started teaching me near the end of my junior year of high school. I did my best to impersonate a sponge when I first received my boxing tutelage. I soaked up all of my coach’s advice. I practiced every day with conviction. I methodically trained on my footwork stepping forward and stepping backward way before I even started working on any punches.

I then worked on perfecting my jab before moving to combinations. It wasn’t long before I started fantasizing about lifting the championship belt and hearing the ring announcer say, “…and the NEW featherweight champion of the world, Alexis…Rafael…Ramos.” I could hear the crowd chant my nickname, “Ramito, Ramito, Ramito” in my head.

While I did garner a few accolades in the sport of amateur boxing, I never reached the level I wished to attain. Several years have passed since my last match, and my dream of being a world renowned boxing title holder did not pan out the way I had hoped.

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