Good Company

Good Company
Good Company

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Allowing the future to prevail . . .

Out with the old . . .
There is a great deal of discussion in Navy circles about both "new technologies" (see e.g. fuel from seawater and railguns at sea and lasers get deployed on a 40-year old+ ship), and new thinking - "disruptive thinking", "additive manufacturing" and much more.

The Littoral Combat Ship sorta leads the way in demanding new technology to make it work right - UAVs, UUVs and perhaps USVs being essential to its missions. The LCS experiment with specialized command modules for ASW, AAW and ASuW clearly fall into this category.

Having just finished reading Buell'sThe Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance and now reading Potter's Nimitz, I was struck by how rapidly these relative "old fogies" adapted to the concept that the "battleship' era was over and the age of "aircraft carriers and submarines" had begun. I guess it is fair to say that both Nimitz and Spruance had done some serious thinking and study of such matters before the war, but still - in a world of "battleship admirals" these two leaders adapted quickly because they were ready for the future when it became the present.

Perhaps this is not clearly stated enough - but as I am also reading the revised version of Gilder's Wealth and Poverty, there is something in this section that caught my attention:
.... creative destruction is always the essence of growth.

From this fact arises the central question about any system of political economy, any platform of a political party, any inspiring scheme of leadership: will it allow the future to prevail? Will it favor the promise of the unknown against the comforts and passions of the threatened past? Little else matters. As at every other point in the harrowing course of human history, current technologies and productivities are inadequate to a rapidly growing and, above all, increasingly demanding world population. As at every other historical epoch, faithless and shortsighted men attempt to halt the increase of knowledge and the advance of technology; they dream of “stationary states,” “economic equilibria,” “alternative lifestyles,” “diminishing technological returns,” “ecological stasis,” and “a return to nature,” all the while mumbling of “the threat of scientific progress.” Such fantasies, endlessly refuted and endlessly recurrent, are the prime obstacle to the survival of civilization.
Gilder, George (2012-07-31). Wealth and Poverty: A New Edition for the Twenty-First Century (pp. 321-322). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

As you might know, "creative destruction" was not Gilder's idea, but came from Joseph Schumpeter, as set out in this nice summary:

3-D "print"
Herein lies the paradox of progress. A society cannot reap the rewards of creative destruction without accepting that some individuals might be worse off, not just in the short term, but perhaps forever. At the same time, attempts to soften the harsher aspects of creative destruction by trying to preserve jobs or protect industries will lead to stagnation and decline, short-circuiting the march of progress.
... in with the new
In the economy, buggy-whip makers and their employees will suffer when buggies get replaced by automobiles even if they apply the "best" of all management practices. In the Navy, "creative destruction" (or perhaps in the case of battleships, actual destruction) will cause "battleship admirals" to have to find new places to work. Gas turbines and efficient diesel replace steam ship power plants, making fuel from seawater replaces long logistics lines . . . Railguns and lasers go to sea. Ships may not need to have magazines for powder and shot . . .

So? My least favorite justification for proceeding in a certain fashion has always been, "We've always done it this way."

It seems that now is a great time for the Navy to embrace change and to "allow the future to prevail."


  1. Anonymous5:48 PM

    I imagine you've already read it, but there's a great book about the General Board between WWI and WWII. It is, in light of a lot of conventional wisdome, pretty amazing just how forward thinking these officers were and what an impact they had on the tools, training and organization we fought WWII with. After reading it, I often think that we should reconstitute the General Board.


    1. Yes, great book by John Kuehn. We interviewed him on Midrats Episode 79 - here.

    2. Anonymous1:32 PM

      To some degree, we have reconstituted the General Board, today called the CNO's Advisory Board, and it is based on the original concept. There is a difference, however. The curren board includes academics and business leaders as well as active and retired admirals. The Navy is pretty quiet about it, but it does exist.