Cyber Defense Review

The Interdependence of Feedback, Stability, and Success in Emerging Professions: A Grounded Theory Study in Support of American Military Cyber Professionals

By MAJ Joe Billingsley | December 14, 2015

I.  Motivation

As captured in numerous strategic policy documents and speeches, the need to develop a military cyber profession (MCP) or workforce in America is significant.[1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6] Unfortunately for the United States military, such development has been hampered by a lack of durable and widely accepted definitions of the MCP, which would neatly bound and focus the community, identify what the work is, and who these military cyber professionals (MCPs) are.[7] Despite the considerable progress recently made with establishing a Department of Defense (DoD) Cyber Mission Force (CMF) and a cyber career branch within both the U.S. Army and Air Force, the MCP is still in the process of forming and developing norms. Since the founding of the U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) in 2009, discussions about bounding the MCP have varied broadly between the vision of a numerically-tiny tightly-held strategic asset and a much larger force distributed throughout tactical formations. Since 2009, the growing popular realization of cyberspace’s ubiquity and associated challenges (and opportunities) seems to have driven a demand for cyber professionals at all levels of conflict. The growing requirements in cyber support to the corps and below (CSCB) suggest opinion is shifting towards the latter, more expansive, way ahead.[8]

Inspired by Thomas Kuhn’s observations concerning evolution of scientific disciplines, one can appreciate that once a community settles upon a shared view of their field and begin to take it for granted, critical time and effort will no longer be wasted constantly explaining every concept from scratch. Such developments will allow more confident forward-progress and quicker problem-solving within the community.[9] Without the development of the settled aforementioned view and clearly articulated mission impacts, decision-makers at various echelons will struggle with how to invest finite taxpayer dollars in a fiscally constrained environment characterized by numerous competing priorities and vested interests. Such hesitation limits bold vision and retards the flow of resources in developing this critical community, resulting in a force that lacks the ability to meet neither the current mission nor the readiness to address threats that are expected to grow and evolve. A non-mission capable cyber force is an unacceptable option in the eyes of the military that rely upon connectivity for traditional warfighting functions and also in the eyes of the American people who depend on the same technology for personal and economic activities.

II.  Problem

Given the above motivation, this study began with the driving question of how new, emerging, and evolving professions (NEEPs) define themselves, and ultimately generated a model revealing the interdependent dynamics surrounding this question; feedback communications, environmental stability, and mission success. The model provides insights to the problems discussed above, while also generalizable enough to apply to similar situations of new professions, communities, disciplines, or fields. The image of the mythical Sisyphus repeatedly rolling the boulder up the mountain captures the (“uphill battle”) essence of the relationship between these three forces, with Sisyphus symbolizing the struggle for better feedback communications, the higher he climbs translating to mission success, and the heavy bolder that rolls back down representing the inescapable instability of the operating environment.

An artist’s representation of Sisyphus moving the boulder up the mountain[10]

III.  Literature Review

When beginning this study, publically available sources only enabled limited progress towards the kind of widely accepted views or definitions that are required to increase a profession’s rate of development. Despite a plethora of both top-down theoretical works on professions and bottom-up grounded approaches to well established professions, no rigorous and holistic works were found to address the dynamics surrounding how new, emerging, or evolving professions define themselves.[11],[12] Without such a model, especially within the context of the highly-nuanced American defense culture, the need to explore this process with a fresh set of eyes became apparent.

 IV.  Method

The grounded theory method seeks to generate fresh theoretical models based on messy real-world data without influence by preexisting a priori theories.[13] Given the lack of an existing theoretical model of use to the aforementioned situation, and the highly-contextualized real-world data surrounding it, the author of this work determined a grounded theory approach to be the most appropriate method of inquiry. This approach generated a model that can be of use in the greater development of the MCP and also generalizable enough to develop other such professions.

This study makes use of the author’s availability to various sources of qualitative data rich in nuance. Data sources included interviewees, selected to ensure a sufficient variance in experience, knowledge, and perspectives of the MCP.[14] Useful data was also harvested during active field observations and notes at various hubs of MCP thought in the American defense community, including the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and beyond.

For those looking for an optimal “tooth to tail ratio” in the content of the study, this article may appear to provide too much attention to methodology and background. However, given an assumption of general unfamiliarity with the grounded theory method among the target readership, further explanation is provided and prudent.

V.  Terms

Due to the multitude of potential interpretations for what a new, evolving, or emerging profession is, elaboration is appropriate. More than just a set of people making their livelihood in a given area of work, we may think of a profession as a community of practice that forms to take care of people’s enduring concerns in some area of life or work.[15] The author interprets the major investment into establishing USCYBERCOM and the CMF as validation of DoD’s concern in this area. With this study focused on exploring process than with the differences between professions, fields, work forces, and occupations, the author’s usage of the term profession can be interchanged with these other groupings. More so, the usage of this term is aspirational, inspirational, and better poises the community for holistic development than something as limited in scope as work force.

Government labor studies have generally described new professions as those so new that they cannot yet be classified under the existing system, evolving professions as those which are established but have experienced significant change, and emerging professions as those that are small but expected to become large.[16] Depending on the source and their perspective on the matter, the MCP could be considered new, evolving, and/or emerging. Similar to the abovementioned approach towards the usage of the term profession, this delineation debate is effectively avoided in this study as a means to maintain focus on the process of interest. Future work to further refine the initial theory generated in this study is encouraged. Henceforth in this study, the related concepts of new, evolving, and emerging professions will be referred to as a single grouping; NEEPs.

Following the lexical methodology established in the two previous paragraphs, this study does not include a lengthy discussion of the term definition as doing so would unnecessarily complicate this inquiry and further curtail the interest of the reader. In this study, one may simply consider it to be a statement that clearly describes what something is or explains the meaning of something. This concept of NEEP definition is grounded in the work or purpose of the NEEP, and is a central element of the type of wide held view needed to ensure quicker development.

VI.  Interviews

A process of purposeful sampling included the selection of four interviewees. The interviewees represented a suitable variation of experience in/around the MCP structure and yielded detail-rich data based upon their experiences in numerous cases, providing a deep level of understanding of the central theme covered in this study. Each met the researcher’s criteria of intimate knowledge of the MCP and previous demonstrated thoughtfulness concerning their given profession.

Following norms of the grounded theory approach of qualitative research (which favors fewer sources of higher quality data than higher numbers of sources with limited depth), four participants were determined adequate for reasonable coverage of the process of interest in this study. An additional level of complexity was captured by selecting participants with a relatively great diversity of personal traits and perspectives, including in the categories of sex, sexual orientation, race, regional origin, age, rank, religion, and preexisting contact with interviewer.

Combined, the interviewees had decades of military service experience as noncommissioned, warrant, and/or commissioned officers, as well as considerable experience in industry and academia. Each had prior experience within a profession not related to the MCP. Such a varied background allowed for the emergence of a greater variation of themes and concepts. Triangulation of data from such diverse perspectives increased the overall integrity of this study’s conceptual products.[17] The below chart summarizes the interviewees’ military service related traits of potential interest.


Participant Service Community Point in Career
A Navy Surface Warfare / Info Professional Retired
B Army Signal Corps Midcareer
C Navy Information Warfare Beginning
D Air Force Cyberspace Operations Beginning

Interviewee Breakdown by military service, community, and career point

The researcher-interviewer was a male at a generally midcareer point in service as an active duty Army officer with a varied academic and professional background. The researcher’s potential biases were addressed and the credibility of the study increased during thorough reviews by professional educators with a background in qualitative research.

The semi-structured interviews allowed for open-ended answers to six constant questions, which are listed below. This approach favored fewer interviews of greater length, depth, and richness compared to what a fully-structured interview approach would have yielded. The inherent risk in relying on so few interviews was addressed by rigorous standards such as triangulating data points from multiple sources.[18] Interestingly, the volume of data harvested from the interviews roughly corresponded to the number of years of service of the participant, with interviewee A contributing the most after her decades of service. The interview protocol and questions are listed below:

Interview Introduction
The purpose of this study is to identify how new, emerging or evolving professions within the American defense culture define themselves and to develop a useful and generalizable model to explain the process. I will be asking you a few open ended questioned designed to facilitate an open and candid discussion. Despite my documentation during the discussion, your name and other personally identifiable information will not be published. We are scheduled for one hour. Do you have any questions before we begin?
1 Tell me a story about a new, emerging, or evolving profession. Good, bad, or ugly. Past or Present.
2 How did people recognize this profession was something new, emerging or evolving?
3 Was there a difference between how members of the profession defined themselves and how they were defined by others, and why?
4 In your opinion, why or why not would you consider the military cyber profession a new, emerging, or evolving profession?
5 What are your thoughts on how you believe the military cyber profession is defining itself (procedurally, content, or other ways that the interviewee mentioned earlier in the discussion)?
6 Who else would you recommend I interview for understanding and insight?

VII.  Analysis

a.   Process

In accordance with the grounded theory approach, the analytic process employed a method of constant comparison (see below figure) while conducting open, axial, and selective coding. Coding in qualitative research involves labeling, or what today’s knowledge/data/information managers and scientists can think of as a type of metadata tagging. As part of open coding, numerous relevant qualitative raw data points were extracted from field notes and more than 1,000 lines of interview notes. Each data point relative to this study was affixed a conceptual label. Each concept was compared within context during axial coding to identify categories until patterns emerged. A conditional matrix, discussed later in this document, was applied to help specify the broad and narrow influences on the central interest of this study.[19] The relationship between each core category was revealed during selective coding and repeatedly tested against data, ultimately generating the theory presented in this study.

Over the course of repetitive comparison, the relevance and appropriate category of new or reviewed data could eventually be easily identified, also known as the point of theoretical saturation.[20] Noting that many concepts overlap and were used to draw relationships between the different categories, the below summary provides some examples of raw data points and their associated concepts and categories. The nature in which the categories are related to one another, supported by data, will be subsequently covered.

For those readers with a background in the philosophy of science, the anchoring role of real world data in one of Herbert Feigl’s interpretations of the network encompassing a theory (displayed below) may be a helpful insight when considering the grounded theory method. Further building on the role of data in this methodology that integrates both inductive and deductive approaches, the below representation of the indispensable process of constant comparison may be useful.

One way to look at the relationship between empirical data and concepts.[21]


The author’s representation of the constant comparison process.

b.   Raw Data Excerpts

The below extracts are statements recorded in interviews and notes. They are grouped as a result of the above analysis process. They are provided as examples of data elements to illuminate the analysis process for readers unfamiliar with qualitative research methods.

Category Concept Raw Data Excerpts
Communication Feedback “Journals and other forums can serve as needed opportunities for reflection and feedback on fundamental questions like if our initial assumptions still hold.”


“Community stakeholders came together in a structure that was purposely organized so the right types of ideas showed up. It was a very diverse crowd, including juniors.”

“He said he didn’t understand because we were bad at explaining it to him.”

“Someone with more experience can explain what they bring to the table in a way that junior guys usually can’t.”

Top down “You had a string of visionary 3 star champions for the community pushing the need for this over decades”


“He was great at giving speeches and as a figurehead”

Bottom up “relentless junior officer constantly writing articles, articulating the need for this new community”


“a nation-wide ground-up campaign is needed”

Collaboration “seems like there’s a big need for more cross talk”


“lots of staff officer work and meetings to make this happen”

“Everybody says this is supposed to be joint but it seems you have each service doing their own thing.”

“We’re good at getting together at conferences and talking among ourselves at a super-high level, but to outsiders it just seems esoteric”

“There’s a big difference between how we define ourselves and how others define us in this community”

Processes “You can only get a billet if you have experience, which doesn’t make any sense for a new field”


“contrast with old jobs”

“It should be about building capability for the nation and what’s right, not about pork and revolving doors”

“lots of analogies and metaphors”

“When guidance about how to use us doesn’t come down to all commanders, you get more mismanagement and waste”


Category Concept Raw Data Excerpts
Work Mission “You first need to ask what the nature of the work is”


“briefings would be more impactful if people actually knew what they were talking about and would provide situational awareness to the rest of the team.”

“a natural evolution of the different threads coming together”

“In this line of work, people’s lives depend on it so you’ve got to get it right”

“He still doesn’t understand what our mission is”

“These pilots were trying to explain that airpower as more than just support to ground forces”

Preparation “If leaders don’t work hard up front to define the work, it leads to mass confusion”


“long delay to get the right equipment”

“preparation must begin much sooner”

“We need to recruit personnel that are comfortable working with complexity and ill-defined environments.”

“It is very complex, so unless you are passionate about it and invest a lot of time and energy to understand it, it seems esoteric”

“Planners have the whole DOTMLPF (Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities) issues to consider when making investments, so it can take a while”

“There’s a coevolution between the work and the training”

“ideal traits are more than just tangible skills”

“Younger people are growing up with this new technology”

Fit “Before the transition to digital, this specialty had the same ASVAB scores as potato peelers. A lot of people didn’t make the transition to the new skill sets.”


“disconnect, mismanagement, and waste, like taking a highly trained special forces operator and putting him back into a line infantry unit just to do line infantry work.”

“We also need people with interpersonal skills who can articulate our needs better”

“Do we have the right people to do this kind of work?”

“We seem to be attracting people with more varied skill sets, which we need”


Category Concept Raw Data Excerpts
Environment Stability “Over the course of those two years, we changed from everybody with their own SIPR box and one NIPR terminal in the corner for the office to everybody with their own NIPR box and a single SIPR terminal in the corner. Things had changed in a big way.”


“a dramatic change in the work”

“technology changing faster than our current systems and processes can keep up with”

“He had the vision for how we could take advantage of these leaps in technological progress”

“changing requirements make it harder to train to standards”

“a professional association can set standards”

“What began with hobbyists and garage-based businesses is now a multibillion dollar industry, which is attracting all sorts of attention”

“Paradigm shifts are generational and take time”

Crisis “they couldn’t play in the war because they were still flying in orders on paper while others had already gone digital. That was an ah-ha moment when it just clicked. People kind of woke up and said, oh, I guess that’s what he’s been talking about.”


“Urgency can be good by motivating people to get it done right, or bad because it needs to get done even if it’s not right.”

“so concerned about where the money is coming from and not what we should be doing for the greater good”

“I’m glad that people are beginning to understand not by one large catastrophic event, but by a series of smaller events”

“We’ve turned a corner. Because of all these attacks, now people want to know about it.”

Decisions “It’s hard to compete for resources when other communities share the background of the decision-maker, and their argument is already well-understood”


“There’s a mismatch between what we can do by law and what we should be doing, but laws and policies change.”

“personalities and the us/them competition can get in the way”

“decision briefs neatly packaged so there’s no colliding of heads or egos.”


c.   Conditions

The structural conditions that directly influence the central research question of this study were analyzed. A conditional matrix applied to this inquiry helped to identify conditions within which the MCP and other NEEPs may seek to define themselves. Input to this process came from the researcher’s observations and key data points. A visualization that helped guide the process is displayed below for the reader’s situational awareness, after which are examples of such conditional influences.

Strauss and Corbin’s 1990 Conditional Matrix[22]

In the case of the MCP and other technology-based NEEPs, international conditions included the current era of rapid technological advance which introduces instability into the model presented in this study. The same technological advances that add instability into large organizations with long acquisition planning horizons also enable relatively cheap or free highly-distributed feedback tools, so it is a double-edged sword that may serve as a positive or negative force in the proposed model. Technology is at the heart of the work of this NEEP, necessitating more frequent revisions to work-based definitions.

Over the last few years, the series of international scandals resulting from the public reporting of US government classified data directly impacts our area of interest as many potential recruits may be turned off to joining a profession that some see as having a tarnished reputation, increasing the cost of preparedness and therefore contributing to decreased mission success in our model. In the language of our model, the international feedback processes, like the press, may be defining this NEEP with undesirable connotations. These scandals have been followed by changes in national policies affecting this NEEP, which decrease stability and ultimately exacerbate the other categories in our model.

Large financial crises also decrease stability for the MCP, as numerous influential voices call for minimizing the size of and resources allocated to the nation’s military. With the military at the core of how the MCP defines itself and the inherent reliance of NEEPs on new investments, such national level conditions directly shape our context. Within organizations, NEEPs without clear definitions will naturally encounter decision-makers that logically prioritize maintaining investment in areas that are well-known and have been long relied upon for jobs in a given constituency and mission area. In a fiscally constrained environment, NEEPs may lose such competitions for finite resources to incumbents.

Within institutions like the American military, when a subordinate authority officially defines something in a more expansive manner than the higher authority has provided, the subordinate is normally responsible for resourcing whatever additional mission requirements the subordinate took upon themselves (sometimes referred to as the “delta”). In the case of NEEPs, such dynamics  of “taking it out of hide” can sap quick innovation in response to changes in work at lower levels for fear of having to “steal from Peter to pay Paul,” as one interviewee explained. However, clear bottom-up feedback that is effectively acted upon at higher levels can significantly decrease the resource allocation response time. Given this instability in the work, an optimal approach to ensuring timely response appears to be the maintenance of some reserve resources (be it in one’s schedule, budget, etc.) at lower echelons.

Down at the individual action level, resource availability plays a keep role in how a NEEP and its constituent professionals define themselves, from the quality of the professional development received to the ability to pay for certifications that are many times required by regulation to conduct the work. Therefore, such conditions directly impact the survival of the individual professional and that of the profession as a whole. Wars, battles, engagements, deployments and other military-centric contexts have a natural effect on stability at the individual up to international levels.

VIII.  Results

The relationships discussed above have helped to reveal the interdependencies between the three categories of dynamics surrounding how NEEPs define themselves, including the impact on mission effectiveness. Each category deserves some independent attention before proceeding to discuss the model that brings them together.

A.  Categories

1.  Communication

The category of communication, with the concept of feedback at its core, was found to play a major role in how NEEPs define themselves. Other conceptual themes in this category include top-down and bottom-up communication, associated with each are complimentary pros and cons. Top-down definition efforts may come with more authority and wider implementation, but given the natural lag and filtering associated with communication across multiple echelons, may not be as accurate as those definitions coming from the bottom-up. Leaders may decide to address such dynamics by expanding transparency and collaboration within their organizations.[23] A perceived lack of neither clear definition nor results from bottom-up feedback processes are a general cause of frustration and contribute to a lack of trust in the system (or greater organization) by those closer to the work. In this study, an example of a manifestation of a lack of trust is a perception of corruption or indifference.

Although it did not survive the constant comparison of the coding process as a separate category, which nevertheless resulted in a conceptually denser theory, the theme of positive and negative communication arose and has been integrated into the process concept. In defining the NEEP, a positive vision for the future and about what opportunities are possible comes from sources at the bottom and the top. Complimenting such positive efforts are those focusing on the contrast between the given NEEP and others. The use of analogies played a central role in how NEEPs were defined to both internal and external audiences. An example of such an analogy of contrast extracted from the interviews states that “the road infrastructure personnel don’t equate to the police force or the Army. Those guys build and maintain the roads. We protect the roads and personnel using them, or attack those of an adversary.”

The concept of collaboration is more horizontal cooperation among partners than the vertical feedback component of the model. The two smaller circles in the below graphic depict the collaboration process at the respective senior and junior levels, although in any hierarchical system there would be such vertical activities at each echelon in between the absolute bottom and the top rungs of the organization.

Author’s conceptual representation of the feedback process

2.  Work

The category of work includes the concept of the mission or the real demand for a given profession along with its associated functions and capabilities. Numerous statements about the centrality of the work in the definition process arose. A powerful image of work emerged in threads of different forces and influences coming together over time, which was the inspiration for the below graphic.

Suboptimal or ill-fitting definitions of the work do not allow for adequate or appropriate resourcing, a problem that grows with each echelon in large bureaucracies like the US federal government. The concept of preparation includes planning and resourcing, normally associated with senior leadership. Characteristic years-long delays in acquisition cycles, from identification (not yet validation) of a requirement all the way through to it actually being fully fielded, was cited numerous times as an inhibitor of supplying the Services what was operationally demanded. Growing a crop of professionals through educating, recruiting, training, retention, and experience requires great resources, including time.

The time needed to grow such a profession is an important consideration determining the composition of personnel available to do work. The need to expose people to the basics of this field earlier in life was articulated with a point about how we teach our children the basics of safety like looking both ways before crossing streets and not talking to strangers, but our collective failure at teaching them the basics of cyber security. Passion and self-preparation also emerged as requirements, given the high bar to actually understanding the full range of complex work in this field, and the inability to produce such depth of proficiency within existing training pipelines.

The interviews included extraction of a symbolic parable about Thomas Jefferson’s decision to wait to pave the walkways around his new school until first seeing the paths develop where the people were actually walking. Other analogies and statements told of a near-universal acknowledgement that NEEPs inherently suffer from delays in resources, typically resulting in exercises of patience on the part of many except those junior personnel who are typically left to locally address the difference (or delta) and get the work done as best they can. The delta is addressed in the concept of fit between the actual work and how personnel are resourced and therefore prepared to accomplish it. Disconnect between the work and the force impacts mission success, quality of life, and hence, other sustainability factors like retention. This repeated pattern of connect and disconnect can be thought of as an accordion effect and is a well-known systems dynamic.[24]

Author’s conceptual representation of the relationship between the work and preparation

3.  Environment

The main thrust of the environmental category is that change in mission-related technology, laws/policy/regulations, and/or key personalities negatively impact the stability of the operating environment. It is worth noting that numerous data points addressing large financial crises have highlighted an impact on environmental stability, as the risk of having to make due with less becomes more probable with competition for dwindling resources becoming fiercer. Such bleak outlooks are believed to blunt vision, since implementing vision typically comes with a near-term or upfront cost albeit for a long-term gain.

History demonstrates that many times there is a catalyst that awakens a broader range of personnel to a need that had yet to be universally recognized, which then results in reactive policy changes. An interviewee, supported by field notes, suggest that the Gulf War was such an event that forced US Navy senior leadership to acknowledge the importance of computer networks in their wartime missions. The Navy’s eventual response was the establishment of the Information Professionals (IP) community, who was charged with the full-time communications work which had previously been done as a part-time additional-duty by Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs). For those not familiar with current roles and responsibilities within the US Navy, one may roughly think of the SWOs as the traditional naval warfighting officers and the IPs as those specifically in charge of communications systems. As stated in an interview about SWOs doing the IP work, “there was an expectation that anybody should be able to do this work, and they used to be right…before everything went digital.”

Popular media including movies were found to play a role in being able to clearly visualize the need for a NEEP, which is an environmental change in the public mood. The 2007 film, Live Free or Die Hard, was cited in field observations as an example of such media that has helped articulate the potential need for an MCP. In typical Hollywood blockbuster fashion, the film vividly features the compromise of national security, large explosions and other physical effects via cyber means. The recent string of high profile public and private sector data breaches was described by an interviewee as a catalyst, insofar as the public’s reaction with increased serious interest.

There is a direct relationship between the change associated with a lack of environmental stability and the ability to accurately define work and therefore succeed. The simple image of a seesaw captures the inverse relationship between the stability of the operating environment and various vectors of change, as discussed above.


Author’s conceptual representation of the environmental stability seesaw

B.  Theoretical Model

A theoretical model grounded in real-world data has been generated over the course of this study to shed light on the dynamics surrounding how NEEPs define themselves. The model ties together the three previously discussed categories, each of which represented in the below three-dimensional visualization as a variable on its own axis; feedback communication, mission success, and environmental stability. The previously discussed constituent concepts of each category demonstrate the conceptual density of this theory. To summarize the model, as each force rises or falls, the others will follow suit. Instead of being a theoretical model describing what should or what we would like to happen, this is a theory based upon what actually has and does happen. As an example, let us consider what happens in a given scenario like the following.


Author’s conceptual representation of the relationship between the three forces


Scenario: A given NEEP has adequate official and unofficial feedback mechanisms in place including a quadrennial review process at the highest levels of the community, an aligned professional association, journals, online discussion forums, awards for professional excellence, and protocols in the workplace like after action reviews (AARs).[25] The feedback has refined how they define themselves, which is largely based upon the nature of the work. Clear definitions based upon the work have given rise to good training programs that prepare a pipeline of professionals to do their jobs. However, the relative environmental stability enjoyed by the NEEP over the past few years has just been upset by a “perfect storm” of changes in the technologies, attitudes, and policies that had formed the core of the NEEP’s work and therefore how they define themselves.

At such crises of instability, a negative feedback loop may ensue. Such fundamental changes make highly-experienced members of the NEEP feel vulnerable to perceived irrelevance. Similarly, leaders outside of the NEEP that were familiar with the (now legacy) work associated with the NEEP are frustrated by a lack of clear and intellectually digestible definitions of the new work and the NEEP itself. During former times of stability expectations had grown to a high degree. However in a time of rapid change, members of the NEEP retract from open and honest feedback for fear of appearing out of touch with the new reality. The lack of healthy feedback elongates disconnects between the work and the preparation or support structure in place, making the chasm between the two worse. A real world crisis, like a war, erupts and demands action by the NEEP. The lack of adequate preparation translates to limited capability and increased risk to the organization’s mission(s), unnecessarily putting lives in danger. Professionals closer to the actual work unsustainably “burn the candles at both ends,” as described in an interview, while compensating for their lack of adequate preparation and/or resources. End of scenario.

With an appreciation for the interdependencies between the three forces presented in this model, NEEP leaders and juniors can collectively prioritize fostering a robust positive feedback loop to counteract the effects of environmental instability. By ramping up efforts to continuously redefine the NEEP based upon the new work, disconnect between the mission and preparation will be minimized.

IX.  Conclusion

By discovering the above discussed impact on the definition process by the interdependent core forces of feedback, mission, and stability, this study has addressed the central research question of how NEEPs define themselves. In specific regard to the original inspiration for this study, one can apply this theory to produce specific recommendations to assist in minimizing risk to the mission by continually refining the definition of America’s MCP.

When considering the impact on the other variables from environmental instability, we may naturally seek to minimize upheaval where possible, such as trying to stabilize variables within the institution. A step further is to foster broad comfort with such complexity. What may be the most cost-effective and practical recommendation to be presented in this study is the fostering of healthy feedback from the top and bottom. Strengthening of peer collaboration and feedback from the top and bottom can be achieved by leveraging existing and emerging resources like professional associations, journals, conferences, awards recognizing professional excellence, and discussion forums. The innovation structures being established to facilitate forms of feedback within bureaucracies (and between top and bottom) are steps in the right direction, as are new military cyber focused conferences and publications.[26],[27],[28],[29]

The testing inherent to the analytical process covered in this study was enough to produce this initial model. However, further testing and refinement of the theory presented here is encouraged in support of defining the MCP and other NEEPs that are heavily dependent on ever-evolving technology. Given Heraclitus’s observation that the only constant is change, we are like Sisyphus in that we are fated to struggle for as long as we pursue success.


[1] Pentagon, Department of Defense Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace (Washington, DC: Pentagon, 2011).

[2] Pentagon, 2012 Army Strategic Planning Guidance (Washington, DC: Pentagon, 2012).

[3] Pentagon, 2013 Army Strategic Planning Guidance (Washington, DC: Pentagon, 2013).

[4] Pentagon, 2014 Army Strategic Planning Guidance (Washington, DC: Pentagon, 2014).

[5] John A. Davis, “Critical Cyber Needs Include People,” Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International Cyber Symposium (25 June 2013), quoted in Cheryl Pellerin, “Critical Cyber Needs Include People, Partners General Says,” Armed Forces Press Service, 2 July 2013:

[6] Concerning Digital Warrior: Improving Military Capabilities in the Cyber Domain: Statement by Rhett Hernandez before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. 112th Cong. 10 (25 July 2012).

[7]  David J. Kay, Terry J. Pudas, and Brett Young. “Preparing the Pipeline: The U.S. Cyber Workforce for the Future.” Defense Horizons (August, 2012). 2. National Defense University.

[8] Lenart. Michael. “The National Military Strategy from a Cyber Perspective.” Cyber: the Magazine of the Military Cyber Professionals Association, October 2015.

[9] Kuhn, Thomas S., “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Second Edition Volume II Number 2, Chicago, 1970, page 19.

[10]Escarlati,”Sisyphus,”Wikipedia,TheFreeEncyclopedia, (accessed July 5, 2015).

[11] Kevin Morrell, “Re-defining Professions: Knowledge, organization and power as syntax,” Critical Management Studies Proceedings, 2007.

[12] Pamelia E. Brott and Jane E. Myers, “Development of Professional School Counselor Identity: A Grounded Theory,” Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis, May 2002.

[13] Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research (New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction, 1999).

[14] Herbert J Rubin and Irene S. Rubin, Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005).

[15] Peter J. Denning and Dennis J. Frailey, “The Profession of IT: Who Are We – Now?,” Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, Volume 54 Issue 6, June 2011,, p. 25–27.

[16] Olivia Crosby, “New and Emerging Occupations,” Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002.

[17] Michael Patton, Qualitative evaluation and research methods (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publishing, 1990), 169-186.

[18] Tom Wengraf, Qualitative Research Interviewing (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001), 97.

[19] Juliet Corbin and Anselm Strauss, “Grounded Theory Research: Procedures, Canons, and Evaluative Criteria,” Qualitative Sociology, Vol.13, No. 1 (1990).

[20] Barney G. Glasser and Anselm L. Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: strategies for qualitative research (New Brunswick, Aldine Transaction, 1967), 111.

[21] Herbert Feigl, The “Orthodox” View of Theories: Remarks in Defense as well as Critique, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, University of Minnesota Press, 1970, 6.

[22] Anselm Strauss and Juliet Corbin, Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques (London, UK: Sage Publications, 1990), 163.

[23] Stanley McChrystal, “Book Discussion on Team of Teams,” C-SPAN, 28:25, May 29, 2015,

[24] Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1990).

[25] John E. Morrison and Larry L. Meliza, “Foundations of the After Action Review Process,” U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, 1999.

[26] Roche, Bill. “Army Cyber Command Innovation program aims to harvest creativity, ideas”,, June 5, 2015.

[27] Innovation Office, Defense Intelligence Agency,, accessed June 2015.

[28] David Raymond, “Cyber Talks Call for Presentations Released.” Cyber: the Magazine of the MCPA (Military Cyber Professionals Association), 2015.

[29] Military Cyber Affairs (the Journal of the MCPA), Cyber (the Magazine of the MCPA), and Cyber Defense Review (a publication of the Army Cyber Institute and US Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command) are publications that are filling such a feedback role in the MCP.