While I’m sure this is true across the world, we are acutely familiar with the countless examples from American history. Since I am fascinated by military history, here are some examples:
After decades of isolation, when World War II broke out in Europe, the US Army totaled 190,000 soldiers. (It would grow to 8.3 million in 1945, a 44-fold increase.) When mobilization began in 1940, the Army had only 14,000 professional officers. The average age of majors—was nearly 48; in the The National Guard, nearly one-quarter of first lieutenants were over 40 years old, and the senior ranks were dominated by political hacks of certifiable military incompetence. Not a single officer on duty in 1941 had commanded a unit as large as a division in World War I. At the time of Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, only one American division was on a full war footing.
Some American coastal defense guns had not been test fired in 20 years, and the Army lacked enough antiaircraft guns to protect even a single American city. The senior British military officer in Washington told London that American forces “are more unready for war than it is possible to imagine.” In May 1940, the month that the German Blitzkrieg swept through the Low Countries and overran France, the U.S. Army owned a total of 464 tanks, mostly puny light tanks with the combat power of a coffee can. http://www.fpri.org/footnotes/1415.200905.atkinson.usarmywwii.html
Yet, look what we did both militarily and industrially in the face of adversity.
Think about Col Joshua L. Chamberlain’s desperate bayonet charge as his 20th Maine regiment of 824 men defended Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg. They had repulsed several consecutive headlong assaults from elements of Gen John B. Hood’s division, the 15th and 47th Alabama, who hammered up the hill into the Maine troops. Chamberlain was wounded in the foot; his troops were out of ammunition, and in a position where they could not have survived another Confederate assault. Yet they anchored the left of the entire Union army, and if they faltered, the confederates could have executed a flanking action that would likely have determined the outcome of the entire battle. Chamberlain does the only thing he can think of – -and orders a bayonet charge causing his troops to rush down the hill sweeping the surprised Alabamans off the hill . . . an act many credit with saving that day (and possibly the battle) for the Union.
Think about Lt. Col. Hal Moore’s actions during the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. As depicted in the movie “We Were Soldiers”, Moore’s 450 man force faced a 3,000 man North Vietnamese Division that surrounded them. They are assaulted continually for three days, having to call in massive air strikes at one point to stave off annihilation. Before the fighting ended the 7th Cavalry experienced 200 casualties (killed or wounded), as compared with an estimated 1,839 for the enemy. Says Moore: “no matter how bad a situation is, there is always one more thing you can do.”
Humans are remarkable in their ability to perform in crisis.
And so, in this Blog article, Phil McKinney argues that the same principles apply when getting your organization to achieve breakthrough innovation. Here is the formula:
- Make big promises.
- Burn your boats.
- Set yourself up in a place where you have few options and the stakes are high.
- Focused energy and serious intent will push you to do your best work. You have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. (Better than the alternative).