zondag 30 oktober 2011

Innovation – the parallel between warfare and business

In this article the impact which technological innovations may have will be discussed.  It is an interesting and broad subject and the two pages to describe any of this is far too less. Therefore it must be obvious that my goal is not be exhaustive, but to point out some theoretical and practical topics on innovation in warfare and business in order to make you aware of it. Maybe it will even be useful to you in your way of doing business in the future.

- this article is part of a serie of articles called parallel between warfare and business -


Innovation in technology -  invention of the tank
The idea for the tank already existed years before the first world war as a substitute for manpower[1]. Nevertheless, a prototype was never made at that time due to  high costs and the necessity was not there (there was no war). When the first world war started, the development of the tank got accelerated; the first tanks were in use at small scale. The tanks were used to realize a breakthrough in the static defense lines consisting out of trenches and barbed wire which characterize the first world war.
Technical drawing of a 'United States'M26 Pershing heavy tank (Source)

Value of the innovation – specifying the use of the tank
Nevertheless, the real great value of the tank was not captured until the second world war.  It were the Germans who realized how to use the tank to capture its full value. After the first world war, they studied the use of the tanks in the first world war. The studied the advantages and the disadvantages[2] of the tank in order to create a better understanding of how a tank could be used in war.
In short: They realized that the tanks were strong and fast, and could create a breakthrough in the defense lines of the enemy. But what next? Follow up actions were not specified in world war one… The problem was, that the infantry could not keep up with the high speed of the tank. Therefore the breakthrough could not be consolidated and  terrain could not be captured.  Besides that , the tanks were strong, but on specific terrain they  are very  vulnerable if they are not accompanied with infantry (especially on the terrain of urban warfare). The solution would be to make sure the infantry could keep up with the tanks, so the Germans developed trucks and armored troop carriers which could transport the infantry to make sure the infantry could keep up with the tanks.



Change in processes – a new paradigm of warfare
Due to studying the first world war which they lost, the Germans looked for other ways of warfare, which may make them better and stronger. The searched for valuable lessons from their loss while the allies relied on their status quo instead. Why should we [Allies] change or be critical to our type of warfare? We won the war! There was no intention to be critical and learn…
Their critical view made the Germans see also the value which the tank may fulfill (see the previous paragraph of Value of the innovation). The invention, and later the development of the tank (which was accelerated due to the reluctance of  trench warfare and a threatening war, WWII) played a significant role in the change in warfare. The static warfare characterized by opposing trench-systems, shifted to a dynamic warfare characterized by surprise, speed and impact. Among other reasons, which are too complex to explain here and which deserve attention on their own, the innovation of the tank was one of the key-drivers of this shift in paradigm.
The technologic change also caused changes in processes. The development of the tank was probably one of the sources for a change of paradigm in warfare. It became much more dynamic, and it became known as the blitzkrieg. Roughly, the idea of the blitzkrieg was to focus on a specific point in the defense  of the enemy with a combination of infantry, panzer (tanks), airpower and even parachutists (Von Clausewitz called the focus on a specific point: schwerpunkt). Speed, power (impact) and surprise were the ingredients of this new dynamic type of warfare.


Carl von Clausewitz. Author of the book 'On War' (Source)

Luckily the Allies pulled themselves together and won the war. It is very likely that this will be discussed in later articles.
Lessons learned which may also be valuable for business
-          Most of the time technological changes, are not a success in itself. Processes ( in its broadest sense, varying from production processes to organizational & policy processes) may need to be changed to fully capture the value of a technological innovation.
-          Creating a breakthrough with new inventions (products, services) is not enough, you have to have next steps organized (or at least in mind). Capturing market share is good, but make sure you have resources and plans how to consolidate your market share.
-          What is the usefulness of an innovation? Although a new product is fantastic, if there is no market for it, be critical on the resources you spend on them. Spending resources on the development of tanks while you are in a naval warfare may not be the right way to utilize your resources at that moment.
-          Especially nowadays, it is dangerous to rely on your status quo. You have to be aware of changes and innovation in you direct and indirect surroundings (market). Your necessity for innovation may not (seem) to be high, but for other organizations it may be and once they have changed, they may have set a new standard which outcompetes yours. Your status quo has been vanished. In this complex and ever changing world, the term status quo may not be applicable anymore and may be a fairytale or utopia.
Anyway, the message is that it is dangerous to sit back and do nothing. Scan your market and (potential) competitors, even if you think they are not capable of doing anything (be aware of underdogs).
-          War makes people inventive, because the necessity for change and innovation is high. This causes a lot of new inventions (for example the tank, jet-fighter, just to name a few during the world wars) which make your standard useless.
This may also be applicable to businesses. Highly competitive markets make players on that market creative.
-          Every organization has limited resources. Think carefully where you use them for. Sometimes it may be better to focus your resources on a specific area (Schwerpunkt) instead of trying to compete with all your (potential) competitors on all fronts, there are just not enough resources to this. In the second world war, the Germans had to fight on multiple fronts against multiple enemies, they (luckily for us) just didn’t have enough resources to act on both theaters.
Translating Schwerpunkt to innovation in business, it is important to focus on a (or a few) specific innovation(s), because innovating is very expensive (but necessary, there is no status quo). But make the choice for a certain innovation carefully, based on a plan which includes the next steps to capture full value of your innovation and consolidate these. The plan should also include risk analysis (what if it doesn’t work out the way we thought it should). Draw up multiple scenario’s and make a choice based on theory and experience .
Although focusing your resources on a specific point, bear in mind that this may also be very dangerous, spread your risks. And make sure failure is compromised by other focus areas. Sometimes it may be better to have a few Schwerpunkts (focus areas).


[1] Even Leonardo da Vinci made drawings of a ‘tank’. The idea was to use the tank to create breakthroughs. It was not a fully substitute for manpower.
Da Vince's drawings of his invention of the tank (Source)
[2] Knowing what you are not capable of, is a great strength




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