Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971


Strategic Issues: Conceptualising Time

By: Dr. John R.Ballard
Making strategy work effectively during a crisis is the essential challenge of leaders. Yet, even with a solid understanding of key strategic principles, it is always difficult for leaders to put plans into action in a highly uncertain world. One of the most challenging, and some would say most overarching, of the issues that must be managed in execution is Time. The Roman poet Ovid ominously said that Time was “the devourer of all things,” yet Time remains one of the least well understood of all components of effective strategy.
Time is the quantified progression of events from the past, to the present, and into the future, measured in tools such as calendars and clocks. More importantly, Time is necessary to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change. Yet, Time from the strategic perspective is often difficult to operationalise.

Sometimes its because the threat posed by other entity (nation, group or disease) does not follow an agreed Time standard (days, weeks, months). Sometimes the threat intentionally deceives its opponent concerning its temporal objectives (says that an action is not of immediate concern but reacts without delay). And in rare cases, the threat is so novel that we can only speculate about how Time will affect its path.
The current novel Coronavirus is a good example: no one knew how long it would infect people or how long it would remain virulent. The leaders of every nation on Earth had to make crucial assumptions about the Time the novel Coronavirus would take to reach their populations and the Time that the virus would impact their nation’s people and healthcare systems. Even today we remain unsure if the virus may only have occurred in the first of potentially several cycles and may revisit us. Time continues; we must make assumptions.
Once we understand how difficult Time is to deal with during a crisis, it is easy to understand why our most effective leaders call for creativity in strategic thinking and flexibility in strategic planning. Nations that reacted well to the virus made better assumptions about Time and acted more swiftly to manage issues. Leaders who established inflexible or incomplete policies and did not adapt as the virus expanded wasted valuable resources and lives.

The UAE, the first in the region to experience Coronavirus, as a very organised society with adaptive leadership, acted quickly to test and monitor, and enacted firm but flexible polices that matched the extent of the pandemic; thus, found an effective path that saved lives. Now we all should take the opportunity to understand how Time affected our response to this pandemic and adjust our strategic thinking to ensure that when a similar unanticipated threat reaches our soil in the future (because it will happen) we can understand and react even more effectively.
As our global environment grows ever more complex, strategic leaders must ensure they consider and adequately address Time to serve the best interests of their citizens and to maintain national prosperity. No two international actions are exactly alike, so Time may require different approaches in different circumstances, but managing it wisely remains a prerequisite for success, particularly for a nation as globally engaged as the UAE.

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