Cultivate the Intuitive Decisionmaker
An examination of functional cognitive skill development
by Maj Matthew W . Tracy
We all notice those Marines who seem to accomplish difficult tasks with ease. They learn faster, catch on quicker, and are good "sticks," "shots," and "troop handlers." Most importantly, they seem to remain a couple of steps ahead of a thinking adversary. We have also been exasperated by the opposite Marines who never seem to understand or apply the information we teach them. They wallow in remediation or freeze under pressure. These Marines represent a significant liability in the face of the enemy. The majority of the rest of us putter along somewhere in the middle. I have often wished to move out of this middle group to somehow improve my ability to "orient" on the enemy in Col John Boyd's OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop. to "become ender," 1 or to cultivate my jocuitive decisionmaking. I have never met anyone who claimed they could enhance these seemingly genetic traits . . . until this past fall when I was exposed to mental performance training (MPT).
Based on mental performance improvements in the areas of business, athletics, and academics, Kennedy Consulting Group and the American Institute of Learning and Cognitive Development approached the Marines about customizing the MPT program to help Marines defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Based on these results, additional pilot programs were conducted to include one by 3d Marines Regimental Schools to determine MPT's potential positive effect on performance in high-stress, timecompressed environments. Their assertion was that the MPT would enable Marines to see noticeable improvements in themselves and meir subordinates' performance in overall efficiency, planning, decisionmaking, problem solving, concentration, and motor skills.
The MPT model of the human mind has three overlapping spheres. (See Figure 1.) The first sphere is "knowledge," which represents the accumulation of all classes and information taught co you throughout your life and is the focus of our education system. The second sphere is "experience," which consists of the lessons learned from all of your motor actions. The third sphere represents your "mental processing skills," which corresponds to your abilities to tap. translate, and mine your experiences and knowledge into actionable solutions to fit the current reality. These neglected mental processing skills are what separate mose seemingly natural performers from the rest of us, and by improving the efficiency of an individual's brain, subjective skills, such as coordinating operations, abstract problem solving, anticipating enemy maneuvers, etc., will improve.
In order to test this theory, we decided to determine whether MPT would improve marksmanship scores of seasoned Marines without them touching their weapons. We chose marksmanship since it was easily quantifiable, and we could conduct a fairly objective performance evaluation of three cognitive processes-decisionmaking, concentration, and motor skills. If marksmanship can be improved by this very unorthodox yet low-cost training, the program may warrant examination on a larger scale by the Marine Corps.
In September 2007 members of 3d Marines Regimental Schools began their marksmanship/MPT test by dividing into two groups-an experiment group and a control group. Each would shoot the same marksmanship course of fire (CO F). The experiment group would then undergo MPT. At the end of the training, bom groups would reshoot the same COF 10 weeks later. During the I O-week training program no one in either group would shoot their weapons in any way.
The MPT began with a 4-hour comprehensive, time-compressed cognitive assessment. The results provided the MPT team with a thorough analysis of each Marine's cognitive strengths and weaknesses. This evaluation led to a tailored training package that specifically worked on each Marine's weaknesses. Most training consisted of playing various mental puzzle games during timed competition against other Marines. These "cognitive exercises" 2 develop more efficient pathways in the Marine's brain, which allow him to accomplish a specific task faster, better, and while under greater stress. The goal was for the trainee group to take the games home and play them for at least 30 minutes a day, S days a week. In addition, the Marines participated in a I-hour group cognitive competition once a week. Each Marine kept a logbook to record his training time.
The marksmanship COF was broken down into two pares. The first portion was a modified known-distance (KD) course in which the Marine shot the Marine Corps rifle qualification course, omitting sitting and kneeling at the 200 yard line and 500 yard line prone position. The targets were all ''Able'' targets and were scored from zero CO five points. Each Marine shot 30 rounds for a possible score of 150. Based on these requirements, the primary functional cognitive skills in support of the KD are direction/ orientation, field discrimination, abstract sequencing. attention, and motor integration. The second portion of the COF was cognitively more complex. It consisted of Marines in full combat gear at 25 meters from an "Echo" target painted with six varied 8-inch colored shapes. The line noncommissioned officer shouted out various shapes/colors and the Marines would discriminately engage the shapes with the articulated number of rounds in fewer than 2 seconds. If they hit the appropriate shape/color with the appropriate number of rounds they received five points, if they hit the "Echo" silhouette they received one point. The highest possible score was 150. The administrators of the MPT believed that the combat marksmanship COF served as a better test since it challenged a greater number of cognitive skills. Time compressed, discriminatory shooting based on auditory queuing uses almost the entire gamut of the 14 cognitive functions, which include shape recognition, direction/orientation, classification and categorization, field discrimination, analysis and synthesis, motor integration, abstract sequencing, concrete sequencing, and attention. Total possible score for the entire course was 300 points.
After 10 weeks of MPT the two groups of Marines reshot the exact same COE The Marines in the experiment group, who conducted the MPT, improved on average by 23 points; the control group also improved, but only by an average of 9 points per Marine. Logbook entries indicate that the amount of training was below the amount recommended. by the MPT staff. A1though the amount of training time varied from Marine to Marine, it did not correlate well to performance. Some did a little training and improved a lot, while some trained quite a bit and only had some improvement. The only true correlation was that there was a significant difference between those with the training and those without. As anticipated, larger gains were seen in the combat presentation drill. Marines improved on average 16 poines per Marine in the combat shooting but only by 7.6 points on the KD portion.
Encouraged by the results, the MPT was applied to the 3d Marines Regimental Rifle/Pistol Team in February. After hours, the Marines would practice the specific games recommended for marksmanship. Although they laeked a control group, they did win the Rifle Team Gold at the Pacific Division Matches on 26 February 2007. This was a team in which three of the four shooters were new to competitive shooting.
One small test with a limited population is not the basis for a major training philosophy shift; however, the improvement is substantial enough to warrant a larger study. Based on continued. positive results from the MPT, we may be embarking on a significant paradigm shift in how we think about training.
Possible Applications • My belief is that we would see the largest improvement in combat/flight decision making against a thinking enemy. The training program may actually improve someone's cognitive ability to observe, orient, decide, and act better and faster than his opponent. 3 • MPT may offer a concrete training solution to those who freeze or get overexcited. under high stress. These people are dangerous in combat, and once identified are normally relegated to nominal positions. • MPT may offer a training solution to those who have been identified. as not seeming to have the cognitive faculties to succeed in the Marine Corps. MPT could be utilized to reduce washouts from The Basic School and flight school while improving the product.
To evaluate MPT's full potential, I recommend conducting tests using simulations and combat decisionmaking. Have 2 groups of leaders or pilots playa simulated decision game or flight simulator 10 consecutive times and score their results. Have the experiment group conduct the MPT regiment for 10 weeks and then return the groups to the simulators and score the results. I anticipate the experiment group will learn faster and score more tactical victories than the control group. Another area I would investigate is the subjective idea of self-esteem and self-image. Some of the Marines in the experiment group characterized themselves as "stupid" or "dumb." As they improved at the games, their outlook began to change and their job performance improved. I believe they began to feel smarter and act like it. I recommend applying the MPT test to the recruits in the physical composition program. Again, I would test a eontrol group and 38 www.mca·mar1nes.org/gazette MarIne Corps Gazette. January 2009 an experiment group. I would wager the graduation rate of those who conducted the MPT would be higher and faster than the control group.
We could be standing on the ledge of making significant strides into a concrete training program that will enhance our combat decisionmaking. If the MPT continues to demonstrate the results reflected in our study, we may be on our way to "becoming ender." N_ I. One of the Marine Corps' great challenges has been enhancing combat decisionmaking. Currently. simulated trial and error remain the most effective means, thereby developing a dossier of experiences to draw upon (flight simulators, convoy trainers, and Virtual Bardespaa 2). Others include historical professional military education, see Capt Brendan B. McBrttn, -I Want to be 'Ender,'" AUrjM Cap6 Gazette. April 1998. pp. 46-49, and Cen Charles C. Krulak, ·Cultivating Intuitive Decisionmaking. · Nbrine Ccr~ Gazette. May 1999. pp. 18-23. 2. An example of one of these games may be found at http://www.setgame.com/set/puzzle_frame.htm. This game builds efficiency in pattern recognition and categorization/classification. which aids in anticipating enemy actions, masking your own, threat recognition, discriminatory shooting. and lED defeat. 3. A drawback of Boyd's OODA loop was that his explanation on how to improve one's ability to outcycle an opponent was mired in the abstract concept of analysis and synthesis found in Destrution and Creation. Boyd's paper on the inevitability of destruction in any closed system (3 September 1976). This training may offer a concrete way to improve our OODA loops.