Sunday, October 25, 2020

Innovation and the "cult of the imperfect"

Robert Watson Watt was one of the "boffins" who did so much to help Britain win the Second World War. He was instrumental in the development of radar and radio direction finding.

He was, he admitted in his memoirs, part of the "cult of the imperfect."

Give them the third best to go with. the second best comes too late, the best never arrives.
Germany was defeated, in large part, by good enough/now/in large numbers.

Her leaders had chosen to follow a different path during the critical years.

One reason for this [Kursk] and subsequent German defeats was the small number of German tanks produced. Hitler and his assistants were fascinated with technological improvements and frequently stopped production to apply the latest design changes to existing tanks. Further, most German planners prized high quality and were suspicious of mass production techniques. Such problems, coupled with shortages of raw materials, meant that Germany could not compete with its foes in sheer numbers of tanks produced.

Jonathan House 

But technological superiority by itself has never guaranteed success. The Germans had technologically inferior tanks and artillery in 1940; nevertheless, they won one of the greatest operational victories in the history of the twentieth century. In the 19441945 campaigns, the Germans possessed by far and away the most sophisticated fighter aircraft, the most sophisticated heavy tank, the most sophisticated medium tank, the most sophisticated submarine, and the best machine gun. And they went down to catastrophic defeat.

Williamson Murray 
Two style of innovation opposed each other during the war. On the German side you see perfectionism inside a closed system with top-down direction. The western allies operated a much more open system, with room for bottom up experimentation and a willingness to accept good/now beats better later.

We know which one worked.

Oddly enough, the German officer corps under stood. The American General Albert Wedemeyer attended the Kriegsakademie in the late 1930s. As part of his report to the army he noted "“The Germans point out, that often a Commander must make an important decision after only a few minutes deliberation and emphasize, that a fair decision given in time for aggressive execution is much better than one wholly right but too late.”

This is an interesting video that defends/explains the very imperfect Sherman tank.


Understanding innovation

Patrick Blackett and the innovation trap

Strategic problems and the problem with strategy

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