75 years ago, the Allied nations initiated an offensive in the South Pacific. Frequently derided as “operation shoestring,” the initial campaign in the Solomon Islands was hastily planned and executed. Fighting soon devolved into an attritional struggle; success was uncertain. Did the Allied powers make the right decision? The consensus opinion is that the US Navy’s aggressive Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Ernest J. King, pushed for the offensive before the time was right.
This view is mistaken. King knew that in the years before World War II, the US Navy had developed a learning system that could rapidly reconfigure its tactical doctrine considering experience. He had seen this at work as a younger officer and understood the potential. King recognised an early offensive would be the best way to trigger rapid learning cycles. The fighting in the Solomon Islands provided lessons that allowed the US Navy to evolve its tactical doctrine and dominate future battles.
Similarly, when I was working as the lead software engineer for a small start-up, we consciously decided to aggressively pursue the business of our 5 largest potential customers. We did this before many of us thought we were ready, but the immediate focus and clarity of purpose allowed us to tailor our solution more rapidly than our competition. We emerged from the effort successful, and dominant in the marketplace.
I’ll tie these 2 examples together with broader themes about the importance of learning, using a strategic anchor as a constraint, and rapid doctrinal evolution as a means of achieving strategic agility. Participants will leave with a better sense of the importance of rapid learning and how to enable it in their organisations.
Trent Hone is a managing consultant with Excella Consulting and an award-winning naval historian. He works with software and IT organisations to improve their art of practice, increase effectiveness and accelerate learning. He has helped dozens of government and commercial teams around the world in Asia, Europe and North America.
Trent writes and speaks about organisational learning, doctrine and strategy and how they interrelate. He has been awarded the US Naval War College’s Edward S. Miller Prize and the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Ernest M. Eller Prize, and he was a finalist for Lean Kanban’s Brickell Key Award. He has presented at Lean Kanban North America, Lean Agile Scotland and the Society of Military History's Annual Meeting.