In her day, the USS Constellation was considered a mastery of technology . However, she was the last ship of her kind designed by the US Navy from the keel up as a sailing ship exclusively . The next major Navy ships built would combine steam with the sails. This of course shook the timbers of the old school Navy men who were convinced that the use of steam would destroy not only the old traditions but even the ability of sailors to be good sailors.
Consider the challenges that the sailing ships needed to overcome. They were entirely dependent on wind and sea currents for propulsion. Entire generations of sailors and officers had spent untold days mastering the interdependence of the physical properties required to achieve not only movement but maneuvering on a rolling ocean with fickle winds. Failure to master those arts would result in the enemy placing himself in a better position from which to destroy your fighting capability. Even the ability to navigate from point a to point b was entirely related to the ability to interpret winds and currents. The technology they used (as primitive as it seems now) was developed over the years to a fine art.
The boiling of water to produce steam was about to change the entire way of operating at sea. Suddenly, whoever possessed this new technology wold have a decided advantage since they could use maneuvering tactics previously unheard of. Speed was no longer determined by the prevailing winds. These great smoking monsters could sail at ease in almost any type of weather and reliably predict the exact hour and day of arrival at their destination.
In order for the new ships to truly make a change in the way the Navy would fight in the future, revolution of a sort needed to be the force for change. Evolution would eventually achieve some of the goals but the nature of all large organizations is to resist change and cling on to the tried and true.
In my short time as a continuous improvement practitioner, I have lived through the challenges of trying to bring people and organizations through the rocks and shoals of change.
People like change but as the old saying goes, no one actually wants to change themselves. The ways we are comfortable with are comfortable because we probably spent so much time and energy to get to this point. Frankly, we have already been exposed to massive amounts of change whether we realise it or not. No one is born with a pen in their hand nor a wrench. Somewhere along the way, we became invested in the change that taught us how to use the tools we are now using. Suddenly, someone comes along and says that you are not being as efficient as you could be.
“Really??? After I have spent all this time, built a reputation in my field, convinced others of its merits and now you tell me its WRONG? Bob, you SUCK!!!”
Yes, I have actually had a plant manager tell me that. Sometimes facing a revolution will cause that reaction.
So where are we today?
If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you that lean manufacturing (as modeled after the Toyota Production System) was firmly embedded in the modern business cycle. No one in management in their right minds would openly challenge the value of the investment made in shifting to a more lean environment. Toyota was wiping the map with their competition’s dwindling share of the market. Like a giant juggernaut, they seemed unstoppable. I am not going to go into all the details because Jeffrey Liker does it so much better in his well written book “The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement”. Like all of his previous books, Dr. Liker and friends go into a great deal of detail about all of the causes and effects related to Toyota’s temporary fall from grace. I would hate to debate him in any way since he has examined it in more detail and with more authority than I possess. But I would contend one thing from observation:
Toyota was successful because it started with a revolution. Most others have failed because they failed to understand that evolution is not strong enough to overcome the grip of the past.
My observation is that people who make the leap do so with unconditional focus, unbridled passion, and commitment for the revolution that comes from a complete understanding that no other course of action will ensure long-term survival. In my mind, it is the Holy Grail of change.
My favorite story about revolutionary change relates back to a number of sources (depending on whom you wish to believe was the originator of the idea at hand)
Legend has it that when Cortes landed in Mexico in the 1500s, he ordered his men to burn the ships that had brought them there to remove the possibility of doing anything other than going forward into the unknown. Their expedition led to the eventual cataclysmic change that resulted in the conquering of entire continent.
On April 29 711, the armies of Tariq ibn Ziyad , landed at Gibraltar in what would become Spain. Upon landing, Tariq burned his ships and then made a speech, well-known in the Muslim world, to his soldiers.
|“||Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but you, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy. If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage.|
Tariq and his army went on to destroy all in their paths and would have eventually overcome all of the Christian domain if not for a determined revolution on the part of the enemy.
The Vikings understood how to use a “dramatic demonstration” to infuse a spirit of dedication into the heart of every warrior. Once they landed on enemy shores, the commanders would shout out their first order: “Burn the boats!” The sight of burning boats was intended to reinforce to the warriors that there would be no retreat and no surrender.
There are other versions of the story but frankly the point is that we have yet to have a true boat burning in our journey to a true continuous improvement world. We still cling to vestiges of TQM. TPM, ISO, QS, Six Sigma, and on and on ad nauseum.
Do you really want to succeed and make that giant leap forward? Really?