Core Belief #3 — Learn Something from the Cavalry

Posted April 11th, 2007 by

Learn Something from the Cavalry

Remember the old westerns?  The US Cavalry always comes riding over the hill just in the nick of time and rescues the hero ala deus ex machina.  It’s almost uncanny how the cavalry manages to show us their sense of timing, but if you’ve ever known or worked with the cavalry, they plan it that way–they’re the first well-known proponents of Just-In-Time methods.  Bear me out, and I’ll explain this grandiose statement.

According to the cavalry article at Wikipedia, the cavalry (more specifically, the light and medium cavalry) has the traditional roles of scouting, screening, skirmishing, and raiding.  When they engage, they pick the time and place to engage, and that gives them local numerical and firepower superiority when overall they have a disadvantage.

So think back to the Battle of Gettysburg.  It’s a classical meeting engagement between 2 19th-century armies.  You’ve got the Union Army on one side with very active cavalry under Brigadier General Buford scouting out ahead of it.  He sees the Confederate Army and choses the time and place to engage them in order to delay the Confederates and give the Union Army time to occupy the high ground South of Gettysburg.  The rest by now is well-known–the Union Army defeats the Confederates by defending the high ground and turns the tide of the war.

How does the cavalry master time and space?  They have some advantages that can be summed up in one sentence–they conduct reconnaissance activities in order to mass at critical points and times.  In other words, they know how to prioritize and it gives them an advantage on the battlefield.

One other thing that the cavalry realizes is the concept of friction.  It’s not a new concept, Clausewitz uses it quite frequently.  But it does make sense if you’ve ever gone to war:  things are never the best-case scenario.  Attack times get delayed because Private Smith left the tripod mount for the M240 in his ruck sack.  We can minimize friction to a manageable level, but it’s still present in even the best-planned and best-executed mission.

In information security management, we’re trying to accomplish the same thing.  We use metrics as reconnaissance to find out the times and places to mass our forces.  We use risk management and triage techniques in order to prioritize our scarce resources to engage and destroy the superior enemy.  We account for friction by having a layered approach–if you will, defense in depth.  We use our local advantage in order to shape the remainder of the business engagement.

Yes, we have much that we can learn from the cavalry.  And in the end, we might ride over the ridgeline just in time to save the day.

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