Intellect and innovation for warfighting capability.

Idea Pitch – Humans Are More Important Than Hardware: Human Performance Optimisation in Army (Part 2)

December 5th, 2016 by Harry Moffitt

This is the second of two blogs by Harry Moffitt in support of his DEFx Idea Pitch.  In the first blog, Harry introduced the idea of Human Performance initiatives, and how they might be used to make the most of Army’s human capacity.  Here he examines a specific idea in a new educational framework for Army.

Can we use broad education to sharpen human performance?

Can we use broad education to sharpen human performance?


‘We can give our soldiers fire and they will be warm for the night. Or – through education – we can set them on fire, and they can burn brightly for the rest of their lives.’

Adapted from Terry Pratchett.

The Idea

Commence soldier transition preparation from day one.

This will be achieved by providing equitable education opportunities for all Army personnel through the creation of an externally-resourced, collaborative ‘Defence-Industry-Academia’ framework.

The Problem

Provision of education to soldiers is inadequate, and there is arguably a significant education gap between experienced soldiers and their peers (as well as between officers and soldiers). We must disenthrall ourselves from traditional PME.

There are three key conditions supporting this problem statement:

  1.  Current military education provision is narrow, limited, rigid and prejudiced (e.g. Defence Assisted Study Scheme (DASS), the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA)). It is based on prescriptive compliance and homogenous instruction; much of which is anathema to creativity, innovation and curiosity.
  2. Despite our best efforts, post-service psychological disorders and associated costs are on the rise.
  3. Current ‘end-of-life’ transition approaches occur too late for Army to gain capability from expenditure on the transition process.

Emphasis on lifelong education provision is sub-optimal beyond, and for that matter within, many traditional training establishments. If Army hopes to be a learning organisation, this is a problem. How many soldiers are tested for numeracy and literacy, or supported to complete year 12 in their first years of service? Is Army squandering talent? I believe so.

Though welcome, my sense in reading the Ryan Review is that we are to simply evolve current dated approaches. This would be satisfactory at best. We will get better at building Generals and RSMs, which dominates current approaches. But not everyone wants to be a General or an RSM, especially the millennials, who will find their own way regardless. Nor does building Generals and RSMs optimise the entirety of Army’s human creativity, curiosity and potential – in fact I would argue such approaches constrain it. In this regard, we must move from a ‘command and control’ approach to one of ‘climate control’ (I believe Sir Ken Robinson’s insights are highly relevant for Defence).

Therefore, I contend we need somewhat of a revolution. I believe investment in non-PME education offers the Army a chance to be truly transformative across all domains of capability and culture, particularly in human performance. And shifting emphasis will not be detrimental to factors like shooting skills – it will improve them, as well as improve personal and professional performance outcomes over the lifespan of the individual.

The Solution

Human (performance) capital development is a high priority for Defence, and so important for Army that it has a dedicated line of effort. However, commitment in resources and resolve remains somewhat indecisive because it is difficult to imagine an immediate gain. IAW the 2016 Ryan Review findings, to generate momentum Army must seek to develop a Defence-Industry-Academia collaboration to support enhanced soldier education pathways, and also develop an investment plan to support it’. In his Directive to execute theRyan Review, the Chief of Army ordered the development of education strategies … including civilian schooling. This is fine, but to truly meet the needs of the future we must ensure that access is equal and available to all in Army – officers and soldiers alike.

None of this is particularly new thinking – see the US GI Bill – nor are corporate / academic / military collaborations new. What is new is the need to evolve external engagement practices to provide lifelong, in-service and non-PME based education opportunities for soldiers from day one of their service; i.e. preparation for transition begins from day one. Extending this idea, a current Army HP education pilot emphasises the ‘education’ in Army’s education, training and doctrine needs of the future’.

The Pilot

Several Army Human Performance (HP) initiatives are championing grass-roots initiatives under ‘pre-habilitation’ frameworks. These HP cells are emerging as authentic hosts for change in their parent units. One of the exemplars of the various HP initiatives is a unique education pilot, which elevates education to the status of strategic investment, rather than a cost. The program is an independent collaboration between academia, business and Defence that provides members with world class, non-PME based education opportunities during service – ‘learn as you serve as you learn’. This initiative in particular shows truly transformative potential for Defence.

The collaborative pilot utilises resources from a local university and several business benefactors. The pilot began in 2016 and has already addressed many reservations about work-life-study balance and OPSEC issues with no negative impact on unit capability identified. This unique HP pilot currently has six scholars enrolled who are studying inside the program, with the first graduates expected in 2018.

The Program Vision

Should the pilot be successful, the vision is that from 2030 all suitable and qualified members posted to the test unit will commence an education pathway – from day one. The model will evolve over time via appropriate external support and investment strategies to be perpetual in nature. In further successful, the concept might expand to sustain an interlocking and mutually supportive network of like funds and programs across Army. One approach might considering the program’s expansion through the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, before broader consideration.

Criticisms of this Approach

Any ambitious project draws criticism, and education innovations are no exception. The most often encountered relates to cost, and the concept that Army should not be educating personnel to go and get a job somewhere else. That is, and oft quoted – ‘what if we educate them and they leave?. The response is what if we don’t educate them, and they stay? which is the status quo. This quote highlights the innovation in this idea – using a collaborative corporate / academic / military model. Further to this, costs must be viewed on an appropriate time horizon to be seen as investments with intangible but very real outcomes.

Emerging Benefits

Army’s approach to educating its soldiers must rise to one of universal and equitable availability for all to truly transform capability and culture. Improved retention, recruitment, critical thinking and self-regulation, and significantly, long term health outcomes are but a few of the benefits of such an approach. Perhaps it might attract more women to Defence?

Other benefits to Army include, but are not limited to:

  1. Enhanced Army reputation as a destination organisation.
  2. Strengthened and inter-linked post service support networks.
  3. Enhanced familial resilience for post-service life.
  4. Enhanced morale and culture.
  5. Exposure to diversity of thinking, people and environments.
  6. Connections to current research and development SMEs.
  7. Improved competitive talent advantage for Army as an employer.

There are other unknowable future benefits of enhanced education practises.

And it is here that we can start to think more broadly. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Would a significant increase in education of soldiers positively impact physical and mental health outcomes, including suicide rates?
  • Would retention bonuses be better spent on non-PME education?
  • Should we be habitually sending our soldiers en mass to [ADFA] for regular intensive periods over their careers, and to study what they want?
  • Should we encourage long professional breaks from Defence during soldiers’ careers – and to welcome them back from [latent pools] when they are ready?
  • If millennials want 4 x 5 year careers, rather than 1 x 20 year career, can Army rise to accommodate this?
  • Is Army flexible enough to make it attractive for soldiers to change corps or jobs?

Each of these questions brings forward an idea that has merit. And, each idea should have the chance to be tested. I offer the various emerging HP programs offer a vehicle to facilitate this.

Courtesy of Australian Defence Force

Recommendation for Expansion / Implementation of Emerging Education Programs.

  1. Army recognise and endorse the success of ‘grass roots’ pilot education programs;
  2. Army recognise value of non PME education pathways for both in-service and post-service, and explore several courses of action, including;
  3. Take a US GI-Bill style initiative to the Australian Government; or
  4. Potentially fund like pilot programs directly (e.g. ‘kick-start’ a 3 BDE pilot nested in Army’s HP program Plan STEEL); or
  5. Lead the engagement with industry and academia to share in funding.


In short, this initiative is about improving lives, not just soldiers. It’s for everyone; they can study what they want. It aims to be funded not by Army but by academia and industry; and it is free for all our soldiers.

If we want a truly adaptive, generative and agile Army we must change. Current ADF provision of diverse educational opportunities is significantly limited by resourcing, and cultural and systemic barriers. Emerging HP programs are developing and testing human capital development approaches, including innovative ‘in-service’ education initiatives which provide opportunities for applicants to pursue further study at leading Australian educational institutions. Such education programs are being designed by soldiers for soldiers, and show great potential to inform and perhaps lead Ryan Review educational initiatives in the Army towards the development of its most important asset – its people.

About the author:

Harry Moffitt is a Sergeant in the Australian Army with 20 years experience, including broad operational service. He is passionate about High and Human Performance initiatives in Defence, founding the first HP program in Defence in 2013. He is a registered Provisional Psychologist, and will complete a MPsych in 2017 in Melbourne.


Campbell, J. C. (2016). ‘Directive 09/16 – Implementation of the Ryan review – Army’s Campaign Plan to Improve Education, Training and Doctrine’.

Ryan, M. (2016). ‘The Ryan Review: a Study of Army’s Education, Training and Doctrine Needs for the Future’.

Vaillant, G. (2002) ‘Ageing Well‘ (Boston: Little, Brown and Co).

Vaillant, G., & Mukamal, K. (2001). ‘Successful Ageing’, The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 158, 839 – 847.

Wardynski, C., Lyle, D. S., & Colarusso, M. J. (2010). Towards a US Army Officer Corps Strategy for Success: Retaining talent. Retrieved 01 Dec 16 from


Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.


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