WEEK 45: Military often refer to long deployments as one Groundhog Day after another like the Bill Murray movie. Some days I felt like I was caught in a vicious information do-loop.
P is for Perfect, Pedantic and Process
“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” remarked the Brigade Commander. I started to reply but a senior officer stopped me. “We’re not trying to be perfect, we’re just trying to refine the product to hit the Target Audience,” I thought. The tips card was a mix of English and Arabic.
To one leader, it promoted partnership. To me, the English unnecessarily cluttered the product and confuses the target audience who may already have literacy issues. Despite my recommendation, the tips card was likely used as is but likely produced tips from the locals. It probably didn’t need to be perfect.
I keep this vignette in the back of my head all the time. I want our messages to be relevant and timely, but I don’t want to be pedantic. Sometimes, the perceived bureaucracy gets in the way of progress. Product approval takes too long is the chant I hear. Often, it is product development that takes time. Even I become occasionally frustrated with our seemingly inability to adjust and just disseminate a product.
We hadn’t intended to do any products for Ramadan.
Last year, the products were not well received. I don’t know exactly why the products were not successful. The security situation was much worse and that may have created cynicism towards Coalition Forces. The unit may have had unfavorable standing with the locals. Maybe the product was offensive because we are not Muslims.
I sensed, however, the conditions were different this year. After we made our Ramadan plan, I started speaking to our Iraqi American staff and local Iraqis. If we can congratulate their team on a soccer victory, why can we not wish the Iraqis a healthy or blessed Ramadan?
With these insights and four weeks left in Ramadan, I went back to the product development section to see what we could do. It didn’t hurt that the Chief of Staff gave me a prod as well.
A few days later, I asked what we had for our newspaper. No product was ready. The pre-testing of last year’s products did not go well. I nearly flipped. Sometimes we need to stop being so damn pedantic and just do something. I was prepared to make a decision, albeit an emotional one, once I reviewed the pre-test results.
Fortunately, Master Sergeant Craig Coleman, the PSYOP planner, assisted me in eating a nice slice of Humble Pie – he rather enjoys this. The pre-testing did not go well. While we were not going to reignite the insurgency over a social faux pas, the products would not achieve anything. It would be more Coalition white noise. The crowd was mostly illiterate so the products had too many words that didn’t make sense. The visual stimuli produced no connection to Ramadan, Peace, Security or Unity. I could have picked one now but risked invalidating any future efforts.
We went back and conducted two more rounds of pre-testing with a more literate crowd and received the feedback we needed. The words are beautiful and inspiring. The visuals need work. Rows of wheat do nothing to inspire a healthy Ramadan. The mosque is too dark. The crescent moon should be white.
Ramadan Mubarak (Healthy Ramadan) is good.
Ramadan Kareem (Peaceful Ramadan) is also good. Ramadan Saeed (Happy Ramadan) is not that common. As if to underscore the pre-test, Zanieb, a former translator who just moved to the US on a visa, had sent an e-mail wishing me Ramadan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem. Now, we have what we needed to make a product to support our efforts and desired effects: a less violent Ramadan than last year.
I have no doubt these products will not resonate with all Iraqis. Very few products ever will as subjective opinions will always vary. The Iraqis who detest our presence will find some reason to not like it. Jaysh al Mahdi will probably burn it as if to provoke us to pull the product. Depending on who you ask, we are non-believers. Many Muslims, however, will refer to those of us who practice Christianity or Judaism as people of the book, the Bible.
After further review, the process worked. We were neither perfect nor pedantic. Despite my best efforts to undermine the process with an emotional decision, we will likely generate more support for Farhd al Qanoon. If we had only been patient enough to continue the process on the tip card, I bet we would be getting more tips with it.