As we mark Veteran's Day (nee Armistice Day) on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, I thought this article, "History's Lessons on Competitive Innovation," (Sloan Management Review, October 2020), would be of interest, as it draws lessons from the innovation and invention bridging WW I trench warfare to WW II Blitzkrieg. The co-author is my colleague, Patrick Stoy.

The article constraints the French approach leading to the Maginot Line with the German Army's field based experiences with cheap props and lost cost improvisations that led to combined arms and blitzkrieg.

You might be surprised to see that the French approach wasn't as witless as we might think, with the advantage of 100-year 20/20 hindsight. You might also be suprised to learn how effective the German Army's approach was, even though if we saw contemporaries doing something similar today, we might mock them for their slapstick antics, what with officers running around with balloons as stand-ins for aircraft, and soldiers peddling bikes with tank silhouettes.
Inside a Maginot Line fort, with all the innovations of Great War trench warfare innovations in place: observation, communication, transportation, housing, artillery and machine gun fire...
German officers releasing balloons to simulate aircraft during maneuvers of Sixth Infantry (from The Roots of Bltizkrieg by James Corum)
The key points:

  • In periods of uncertainty and change, there might be comfort in a deliberative approach leading to decisions on paths forward. But those deliberations draw on past experience and data which may offer weak if not outright misleading foreshadowing of future events.

  • The better alternative? Active exploration and experimentation (trystorming vs brainstorming in modern buzz, I suppose), so the new topography and how to navigate it can be discovered quickly.

To download the full text, click here.

Hope the reading is enjoyable and the application is useful. Please share your thoughts and experiences.

All the best!

Dr. Steven J. Spear DBA MS MS
Principal, HVE LLC and See To Solve LLC

For more on gaining and sustaining competitive advantage based on the dynamic capabilities of learning and discovery, take a look at my book, The High Velocity Edge.
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