Alastair Luft’s Blog


Relative Superiority, Schwerpunkt, and an Artist’s Inner Creative Battles

The Revolution in Military Affairs that supposedly began in the 1990s introduced a lot of innovative ideas for how militaries of the future would conduct operations. Recognizing the effect of improved technology and a changed contemporary operating environment, terms such as Network-Centric Warfare and fourth-generation warfare (4GW) emerged, often to mixed reviews.

In Canada, the Canadian Army introduced the concept of Adaptive Dispersed Operations, the idea that technologically connected land forces could roam around the battlespace quicker than an opponent could react, dispersing and aggregating in swarm-like manners to overwhelm an adversary’s senses and cause their OODA loop to self-destruct. It sounds awesome, like something out of Starship Troopers.

In practice though, Adaptive Dispersed Operations didn’t hold up all that well in Afghanistan. There are many possible reasons why that is, from initial troop levels to unrealized communications architectures to a basic misunderstanding of Afghan culture. Some insight can be found in the old saying that once contact has been established with the enemy, it should be maintained at all costs. In other words, it’s better to know where the enemy is than not know where they are, and while dispersion is great because a force can do more with less, a minimum level of presence is necessary so as to know where the adversary is, which triggers decisions to concentrate. This is even more important in an environment where the adversary blends into the local populace (ie an insurgency).

To make a long story short, what often happened in Afghanistan, especially in the pre-surge days (2005 – 2009), was that coalition forces would roam around the country descending on trouble spots, where they would then stay for a period of days to weeks, sometimes even months. Some effort would be made to establish a permanent presence, building police sub-stations or forward operating bases, but then another hotspot would pop up and increasingly draw all the forces. In the previous locations, now either deserted or with low numbers of security forces, the Taliban would return and enact retribution on the locals foolish enough to have worked with the coalition. Then the cycle would repeat, with troops bouncing from Zhari to Panjwayi to Maywand to Arghandhab then back to Panjwayi, only this time, the locals would be less trusting of the coalition because they suspected – rightly in most cases – that when coalition forces inevitably left for yet another hot spot, the Taliban would return again. And so on.

This situation – an inability to keep tabs on the enemy due to low troop levels – was what the surge was designed to stop, because as sci-fi as Adaptive Dispersed Operations are in theory, they also flirt with breaking the principle of Concentration of Force. And like all the principles of war, this principle can be applied to an artist’s inner creative battles.


Concentration of force is the application of superior combat power, relative to the adversary, at a decisive time and place. It is not a simple massing of forces, the tactic of throwing everything into the fray including the kitchen sink, although this might be the easiest conception. Instead, success is found through a focused application of force that establishes relative superiority, a temporal construct. Rather than sheer numbers of troops (although as Stalin is alleged to have said, quantity has a quality all its own), it is the concentration of effects that is so important and because of that, time is a determining factor, although space must be considered as well.

Delivering superior combat power at decisive times and places since 1976


But what makes time and space decisive? What informs a combatant that striking at one time or place is more impactful than another? There are a number of ideas, including Schwerpunkt, or focal point, and its extrapolated concept of center of gravity, that Clausewitzian theory which has invited so much argument.

For those who’ve never had the pleasure of hours spent in a hot class-room discussing the nuances of what makes a center of gravity, Clausewitz defined this as the “hub of all power…the point at which all energies should be directed.” In other words, the center of gravity is the source of an adversary’s power, whether that be a person, a particular military capability, or an economic region. Clearly, actions that directly contribute to defeating an adversary’s center of gravity are better, or in the purposes of our example, decisive, as they directly achieve the aim.

So from a military perspective, times and spaces that enable one to directly impact the aim are decisive, and it is to these that a combatant should seek to excel, concentrating superior mixes of force to ensure victory. Numerical inferiority can be overcome by coordinating the forces at one’s disposal to affect a target in a synchronized manner, shocking the enemy into a moment of paralysis that might be enough to carry the day. This is different, but related, to surprise. One might know the blow is coming, but still not be able to defend against the sheer strength of the attack, like when Tommy Conlon dismantles Mad Dog Grimes in the 2011 film, Warrior. For a more traditional example, think David and Goliath; David is supremely outclassed in force of arms, but has the advantage being able to deliver a single, powerful strike that, when applied at the right time and place (when Goliath’s forehead was exposed) resulted in victory.

Are there similarities in the story of David and Goliath to how Steven Pressfield portrays the artist’s inner creative battle with Resistance? And if so, can the principle of concentration of force be applied? I think so.

The first part of adapting the principle to an artist’s inner creative battle is to understand the enemy. Like many of the principles, it is enemy focused as achieving superior force at a decisive time and place relative to and dependent on the enemy’s strengths and disposition.

Assuming that the enemy in an inner creative battle can be defined by Steven Pressfield’s conception of Resistance, what is Resistance’s center of gravity? From whence does Resistance draw its strength? Cutting off that source of strength will go a long way to removing Resistance’s ability to interfere.

Interestingly enough, despite its outward symptoms and characteristics, Steven Pressfield tells us that Resistance comes from within; it is fueled by our fear. In this symbiotic relationship, the fear / strength connection has a direct relationship – the more we fear something, the stronger the opposition. This is the center of gravity, so the strategy is self-evident; concentrate our efforts on overcoming our fear and Resistance will starve.

Easier said than done, but it’s a start. In order to concentrate our forces, we must know what tools are available to us. So what do we have?

In some ways, not much. The only person we can really count on is ourselves and even if we have a support network, in the end they can’t write or paint for us. Instead, we have approximately one maneuver unit that we can order around the battlefield. We’re an army of one, which is enough, because this battle takes place on the moral plane, where we do have a number of tools.

First, we have self-discipline, the ability to pursue an aim despite temptations to abandon it. We also have motivation, the drive to behave in a certain way. We have passion, an excitement for what we’re doing. And we have faith, confidence in our chosen pursuit. There are others, but these illustrate the point.

These forces come together at a certain time and place, when we sit down at our desk, in our work space, our creative sanctuary wherever that is, and begin the creative act. Against the varying personifications of fear that our opponent throws at us to distract us from a creative endeavor, motivation gets us to sit down and pick up the pen or the brush, passion gets us to move the tool, self-discipline forces us to tough out the session and faith makes sure we come back tomorrow. For another day, we have written, or painted, or whatever it is, overcoming the fear that our adversary thrives on and in turn is strengthened by and we can claim victory. Until tomorrow, when the trumpet will sound again, bidding us to marshal our forces and concentrate all our efforts at overcoming inertia.

As with any great theory, applying the principle of concentration of force to an artist’s inner creative battles is both simple and difficult, simple to understand, difficult to apply. That’s okay, because as Clausewitz wrote, ‘Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.’ In theory, it should be easy to kick Resistance’s ass; in theory, adaptive dispersed operations should work. In practice though, the enemy rarely makes it easy for us, which is all the more reason to ensure that when we do get the adversary lined up in our sights, we hit them hard and we hit them where it hurts.

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