The tdaxp Interview of Thomas PM Barnett

is an author of three books (his doctoral dissertation, The Pentagon’s New Map, and ), an important grand strategist, and a Harvard PhD. Recently I asked him to answer some questions for a class I am taking on creativity, talent, and expertise. I only expected short answers, and I promised him that what I was asking him was for class-use only.

I was blown away by his public answers to the questionnaire, and delighted that he used the chance to mention tdaxp. Here’s a sample:

18. How often do you “fail”? What do you do when you fail?

To me, failure is just realizing the distance from where I am currently on some issue to where I ultimately want to go. Those realizations are often driven by critical feedback on the brief, when then are turned into better or newer or more expanded slides. When I’ve explained that new thing many times, it usually finds its way into the blog/column/article/book in a progressive fashion.

That’s the idea version of failure for me.

The career version of failure is me simply recognizing I’ve grown beyond whatever bounds I currently face and need to recast myself in another venue. The trigger is typically financial: I feel scared about my ability to earn money in the current configuration of jobs/relationships/alliances and so I reinvent myself to recast those as effectively as possible. Those moments are typically scary, but invigorating in a good way. Having gone through them now a number of times, I’m fairly open to welcoming them (the instinct is to avoid at all costs), so I’m learning to enjoy them.

Performance failure happens here and there (the bad TV remote appearance, the stupid blog post, and the perceived bad briefing), but outright failure is rare (I recently had a very bad brief which stunned me, but it was mostly the result of how the event was set up rather than my performance, but it re-taught me the importance of managing the venue as much as possible—i.e., being demanding with my hosts to ensure the best performance). The bad interview is frustrating, but I’ve learned that’s overwhelmingly the function of the interviewer, something that’s almost impossible to surmount. So I guess a lot of dealing with failure is understanding what you can’t control and accepting that (you know, that old chestnut).

Dealing with failure effectively is mostly about diagnosing it quickly, accepting your portion of the blame, and then chilling on it and putting it behind you quickly. So you seek “getting back up on the horse” moments ASAP.

Read the rest. Or check out previous interviews with and tdaxp.

Update: Tom answers another question: how do you know you are right?

10 thoughts on “The tdaxp Interview of Thomas PM Barnett”

  1. Kudos Dan – excellent ! Very interesting to read and considering Tom's schedule completely amazing to get back in such detail.

    I recall that U. of Chicago creativity theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once tried what you have done with Stephen Covey, the 7 habits guru, and received a curt response along the lines of ” I'm highly effective – or as you say 'creative' – because I don't waste my time answering things like this “.

    Let us know what your prof has to say after you turn that in.

  2. Chirol and Simon, thanks!

    Mark, I agree it is amazing. Our prof had told us the Csikszentmihalyi -Covey story to warn us, so I was expecting only short answers (actually, I was thrilled when Tom agreed to anything at all). I'm shocked and amazed.

    To get these high-quality answers, publicly, from someone of Barnett's stature is unbelievable.

    And thanks for not just a link, but a high-quality post on the interview.


  3. Dan,

    Awesome interview! The answers were very detailed and informative. Big props for you and Dr. Banett. Good job!

    Let's see…OODA loops (my head hurts), Dr. Barnett, integrated attacks against other blogs, babes, charts…the only thing missing is a post on China featuring Zhang Ziyi, and maybe other Asian babes. Take care,


  4. Eddie,

    Mad shouts for the kind words. By the way, your trilogy on Private Military Companies [1] [2] [3] is top notch


    Sweet, thanks. I constantly look for ways to add Ziyi, rest assured. 🙂

    What does the “apocylyptic” [4] damage to the Golden Mosque [5] look like in your three spheres analysis of Iraq [6]?

    PS: In addition to people who've commented here, now Chiasm links to the interview too! [7] Sweet!


  5. Dan,

    Funny you ask about the Golden Mosque. I have a posting in my cranium right now about the issue of mosques in Iraq. Let's just say that my personal experience with Golden Mosques (especifically the Iman Ali Shrine in An Najaf, Iraq) has not been pleasant.

    The jig has been up for a long time. The insurgents know that they can take refuge in mosques and that will always complicate our efforts to take action against them. It's pretty much a lose-lose situation. We always get blamed regardless of what happens. Even if it's their own explosives and RPGs that go off inside a mosque, we get blamed for it. Without getting to much into it, bottom line is: the insurgents use mosques and other sensitive locations (hospitals, schools, etc) to their advantage. They have no qualms about setting up staging areas, command posts, and ammo dumps inside mosques. They now that whatever happens, the international media will always benefit their goals. Take care,


  6. Dan,

    I just saw the pictures of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra…Holy cow! The dmage is worse than what I initially thought. This is pretty bad. Take care,


    PS I am with you on the Esquire thing.

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