In this deal I wanted to highlight the Power Law concept and the Pareto principle (80-20 rule) mentioned by Clay Shirky at around 8:30 in the TED video below. To me, this is an important element of Offense Industry, and it also shows how the collaborative nature of Offense Industry is able to compete against enemies that use institutions for warfighting.

Specifically, I wanted to highlight the actions of privateers during the war of 1812 versus the British Royal Navy. One group is a collaborative effort, and the other was an institution. At the end of the day, the collaborative effort of the privateers being focused on merchants and other valuable British prizes, ended up contributing greatly to the overall success of the war effort. And yet, there was no admiral coordinating the privateer attacks, no institution that dictated how each privateer operated other than a license (letter of marque) giving them authority, and there was room in this offense industry for the top performers all the way down to the one hit wonders.

Privateers during that time period also seem to exhibit a power law, 20-80 type effort. There were the privateers that were the top performers (20 percent that captured most of the prizes), and then there were the long tail of privateers who would get a prize here and there (one hit wonders or 80 percent). This entire grouping of privateers ended up accomplishing quite a lot, and at no cost the US government. Actually, the government made money off of these privateers and usually collected about 10 percent from each prize taken, which then went back into the war chest to further fund ‘institutions’ like the navy.

This system also rewards the top 20 percent, but still gives hope to those that are part of the effort. But governments that utilize the privateering system should know that those 20 percent are crucial to your effort, and every effort should be given to identifying and working with this 20 percent so they continue to be successful. A government should also be aware of the 80 percent and understand their place in the effort as well.

It should also be noted that the US Navy only had 23 ships during the war and the total registered amount of privateers was 517. Likewise, privateers were able to capture 1300 prizes and the navy was able to capture 254. Yet privateers funded their own vessels and self organized, whereas the navy was an institution requiring investment by the US. This is expensive and time consuming and obviously the US was not able to raise an adequate Navy in time for this war.

So instead, the US depended upon the ‘collaborative’ strength and cost effectiveness of a privateering system to accomplish the task of attacking British commerce and logistics.  To me, this collaborative nature of offense industry is it’s strength. I also wanted to identify this strength and archive it for future discussions about Offense Industry. You can also see that the more inclusive and massive the privateering system is, the more effective that privateering system will be at gaining prizes. It’s a numbers game, and institutions will have a hard time competing with that.

You could also apply this concept to what is happening in the arab spring. You have people who are part of a collaborative effort to overthrow their government and it’s ‘institutions’. These collaborative efforts follow the power law curve as well, and you will have the top performers and the one hit wonders throughout the effort, and the overall results of that effort equate to great accomplishments and the overthrow of dictators. Interesting stuff and the video below is definitely worth your time to watch. –Matt