Episode 12: Petraeus’s ‘Big Four’: Brainstorm, Communicate, Implement, Assess

To conclude Season Three of Talking Strategy, US Army General (ret.) Dr David Petraeus shares with us his philosophy about making good strategy. A scholarly soldier with a long and varied career, he commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2010–11 and subsequently served as director of the CIA.

General Petraeus’s experience has taught him that the best results can arise from what he describes as his own ‘intellectual construct for strategic leadership’, comprised of four tasks: brainstorming, communication, implementation and assessment. Successful results can be achieved from initially brainstorming with the best and brightest around the commander to find the next ‘big idea’ – thinking through all good proposals, and deciding which is the best. Then, the challenge is to communicate it to the entire defence establishment both at home and abroad, including one’s own forces and allied/coalition forces. Then comes the implementation, requiring energetic leadership. Finally, the results must be assessed – and here the circle closes.

For General Petraeus, making and implementing good strategy is possible when the armed forces are turned into a learning organisation, one that can draw lessons and jettison approaches that have been unhelpful. For communication with multiple audiences during an armed conflict, his motto is: ‘Be first with the truth’.

The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.


Beatrice Heuser

Senior Associate Fellow

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Paul O’Neill

Senior Research Fellow

Military Sciences

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General (Retd) David H Petraeus

Senior Vice-President

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