This is the 200th online column from Business Technology’s resident U.S. blogger Keil Hubert. This week, Keil explains what he’s been up to with his byline.
This week’s column is – if my records are accurate – my 200th contribution to Lyonsdown’s Business Reporter. To celebrate, I wanted to get a bit meta and share a story with you about the sharing of stories. That’s what I try to do here: tell stories that make folks laugh while they reconsider an idea from a different (and ever-so-slightly American) point of view.
To start, this week’s column title is a pun based off of the title of esteemed British author Frederick Forsyth’s 1974 novel The Dogs of War. Don’t worry about the story itself yet; I’m going to get back to that in a minute. For right now, I want to concentrate on the physical book itself.
I first read The Dogs of War in September 2005 while I was forward-deployed with the National Guard to New Orleans, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. Our joint Army-Air Force group had set up a base in the empty Children’s Hospital complex situated between Tchoupitoulas Street and the Mississippi River. It was a pretty good place to coordinate rescue operations as we pushed northeast with the receding floodwaters in order to link up with our sister unit up at the Superdome, downtown. I was the senior Signals Officer with Task Force 71 on that deployment. My team was responsible for keeping the battalion’s radios working… which didn’t keep us terribly busy once we got the basic protocol sorted out. We used our spare time to invent new communications services for the squaddies, including a wired telephone service linking the operations centre to the perimeter gates, a line-of-sight radio repeater station to boost our handhelds’ range, and an internet café. When we finally ran out of interesting ways to turn spare parts into interesting new tools, I cut my non-commissioned officers loose to go join the ground patrols while I manned the office.
The patient exam room that we’d commandeered to use as a radio shop was normally barely large enough for a hospital bed. We moved the bed out and squeezed in three makeshift desks, four guest PCs, a server, four banks of portable radio chargers, a crate of spare parts, a rifle rack and a pile of salt-crusted body armour. I took the ‘desk’ closest to the room’s one window and furthest from the door… mostly because the 17-inch display on the MacBook that I was using as a network server provided me with a nice privacy screen for the paperbacks that I’d stuffed in my Bergen when my unit left NAS Fort Worth for NAS New Orleans. 
Of the five books that I consumed while waiting for our redeployment orders, Dogs of War resonated with me the most. Forsyth’s story is a dark and gritty look a company of mercenaries that are hired to overthrow the pro-Soviet government of a fictional country in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The plot follows the soldiers of fortune from recruitment through operational planning, from ordnance acquisitions through deployment, and from the invasion on through to the grim aftermath. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic and (spoilers!) most of the cast come to bad ends. It’s not a feel-good story, but it is captivating. That is, I found it captivating.
Sitting in the filthy little exam room in a filthy camouflage uniform in the 40C heat and 93 per cent humidity, with the drone and exhaust stench of a heavy generator just outside the window, reading the book felt an awful lot like living out the post-invasion part of Forsyth’s story. So, it stuck in my memory.
That’s not all, though. If you scroll down to the research section at the end of the Wikipedia article on Dogs of War, there’s this line:
‘In Ken Connor’s book How to Stage a Military Coup, the author praises The Dogs of War as a textbook for mercenaries; in much the same way that The Day of the Jackal is appreciated as a guide for assassins.’
Whoever penned that sentence is right on the money: I kept my stained and warped copy of Dogs and added it to my collection of teaching tools. I didn’t think that I’d ever be involved in arranging a coup d’état, but I was reasonably sure that I’d be retiring from military service and would almost certainly be involved in project management in some capacity. Based on my prior experience working in the Big Five consulting community and for Dot Com companies, I figure that most (if not all) of my teammates would be sorely underprepared to carry out large-scale PM operations. I’d need to teach them in order to get the best results out of them. To teach them, I’d need compelling stories that helped me communicate my core points.
Later on, when I was building my senior leaders’ professional development seminar back at NAS Fort Worth, Forsyth’s story was one of the supplemental texts that I planned to use to teach my students the principles of pre-planning principles and logistics planning for large technology project management efforts. The story explained why and how every part of the invasion plan was arranged and executed; it wouldn’t be difficult to get a seminar group to discuss the ideas presented in the novel and then cross-apply them to a real-world endeavour.
That, then, is what pretty much all of my columns for Business Reporter are about: I try to take stories that resonate with people and then translate one or more core ideas from each of them to make a point. My objective is to teach people things that will be both practical and useful in their working lives – lessons that most people never learned in school. Most of my columns deal with funny or poignant stories from my own professional experience; some come from current events, and others from popular culture. No matter what, I try to build every column around a topic, title or premise that offers readers a familiar anchoring point. After that, I try to work from the anchor up to an idea that’ll (hopefully) get lodged in the back of each reader’s head for later service.
I’ve been doing this informally for years – long before Lyonsdown invited me to come write for them. I learned early on as a young subaltern that I could teach my soldiers more with a good story than I could with facts, figures or stacks of field manuals. We’re a social people; our ancestors sat around the fire at the end of the workday and told each other stories about how the world supposedly worked. Call ‘em fairy tales, folklore, parables, ghost stories or whatever; all of those oral tradition exchanges served the same overarching purpose: every short story contains an identifiable character, a recognizable setting, a conflict and a resolution that conveys information in the telling that the listener will internalize. This includes everything from how to tell right from wrong, to what a people’s creation myths are supposed to be, to the tribe’s current social mores, to parents’ designs for their children’s future. Culture is a byproduct of the stories that we exchange as we all struggle to understand who we are and where we ought to go next.
As I wrote in my revised introduction to High Tea Leadership:
‘This collection of stories and my explanations about them is meant to get you as close as I can manage to the sort of conversations that you and I might have if we were chatting face-to-face… I want you to be successful in your job. In time, you’ll assemble your own collection of funny, painful, and illustrative stories that you can use to teach your own people. Until then, you’re welcome to borrow mine. I hope they help.’ 
That’s what I’m on about. I try to capture the stories that I tell to my bosses, my people, my clients and my peers when we get together for a coffee or for a pint. Then I try to re-tell them here, one idea at a time, in such a way that my core idea from each story will take root. Hopefully, you’ll glean some value from one or more lessons that I’ve learned. And if my idea doesn’t resonate, well, you might get a smirk or a laugh out of the telling. There’s value in that, too.
 Soldiering isn’t all danger and excitement. I’d learned my lesson in Kuwait ten years earlier that you always pack a week’s worth of light reading when you deploy. Once the initial excitement wears off, the gap between the cessation of hostilities and the start of the long trip home involves a bunch of listlessly sitting around, waiting.
 Forsyth blended a great deal of real-world knowledge into the story, which goes a long way towards making it seem like a documentary rather than a work of fiction.
 This comes from the introduction section in version two of the book; I rewrote the intro based on reader feedback before finalizing the first printing of the physical edition. If you own versions 1.3-1.3.7 of the original eBook, relax: I’ll upload the 2.0 edition to the Kindle Store when the print version comes out and you’ll get the new version pushed to all your readers for free.
Keil Hubert is a retired U.S. Air Force ‘Cyberspace Operations’ officer, with over ten years of military command experience. He currently consults on business, security and technology issues in Texas. He’s built dot-com start-ups for KPMG Consulting, created an in-house consulting practice for Yahoo!, and helped to launch four small businesses (including his own).
Keil’s experience creating and leading IT teams in the defense, healthcare, media, government and non-profit sectors has afforded him an eclectic perspective on the integration of business needs, technical services and creative employee development… This serves him well as Business Technology’s resident U.S. blogger.