Archive for the ‘History’ Category

by Richard Martin

North Korea is launching rockets and testing nuclear bombs. The Trump administration wants to renegotiate NAFTA. Populist parties are being elected or getting closer to power every week. Terrorists are on a rampage. Countries that had democratized in recent decades are increasingly assuming the trappings of autocracy. Nations and ethnic groups around the world are closing themselves to trade and integration, while economic and political migrants cross the Mediterranean into Europe and thence, to North America and Australia. Environmental degradation is rampant as global temperatures rise and ice melts.

Given all this, it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that the world is in a worse state than ever. There is supposedly an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “May you live in interesting times.” Sure, but isn’t this all a bit much? Aren’t we in grave danger? One of my daughters is stressed out by all the chaos and cacophony!

Well, a little context and comparison helps. As the French proverb goes, “Quand on se regarde on se désole; quand on se compare on se console.” (When we look at ourselves we get discouraged, but when we compare ourselves we are encouraged.) Consider the following:

  • There have never been so few deaths from warfare. By comparison, it is estimated that over 80 million people, possibly up to 100 million, died during the long “Thirty Years War” of 1914-1945.
  • Communist revolutions (and counter-revolutions) and regimes caused the deaths of 60-100 million from civil war, brutal government, imprisonment, “reeducation,” famine, and general underdevelopment.
  • We worry and prepare for a global pandemic. I’m all for planning and preparation against that threat. But let’s not forget that the Spanish Flu of 1918-20 killed between 50 and 100 million, at least 3 % of the world’s population at that time. The Black Death in the 14th century wiped out between one third and half of the Eurasian population. The discovery and conquest of the Americas by European explorers and powers destroyed 90-95 % of aboriginal populations. The Ebola epidemic in Africa was a tragedy and killed several tens of thousands in central and west Africa. But it only lasted a short period of time, treatments were quickly found due to an unprecedented push to find vaccines and palliative measures, and the international community donated millions to fight the threat. It’s still present, but global monitoring, prevention, and mitigation are keeping it in check.
  • Life expectancy around the world (with a few notable exceptions, such as post-Soviet Russia) has been on the rise steadily since the 1950s, and is at its highest level ever. Both my grandmothers bore a dozen children, but only half reached adulthood. Cancer and heart disease are among the leading causes of illness and death now in the West. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are growing by leaps and bounds. This is alarming, but these are all actually diseases of aging, and their increase is due to long life expectancies we now take for granted. After all, we have to die of something.
  • The poorest people in developed countries now have routine access to health care, reasonably good public education from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, clean drinking water, air conditioning, public transit (though not necessarily convenient), relative public safety, and non-intrusive government bureaucracy (with some notable exceptions).
  • There are fewer relative and absolute numbers of people living in absolute poverty in the world now than 10, 20, and 30 years ago. Population numbers keep rising, but growth is flattening as various countries cross the demographic transition to smaller families.

I could go on and on with this listing. All I’m arguing is that, yes, there are some nasty things going on around the world. But in at least some areas, things have never been better.

I don’t want to come across as an unbridled optimist, saying that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” (Attributed to Leibniz to explain God’s seeming non-involvement in the world.) On the other hand, we shouldn’t gripe and worry without reason. We have the resources and know how to prevent many catastrophes and fix many problems. That’s the essence of readiness, and it is fuelled by unparalleled prosperity, science, and peacefulness. Let’s hope these continue.

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Richard Martin’s Business Readiness Process:

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
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  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
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Why Sunday and What Does “Stand To” Mean?

Sunday? I want you to get my insights and advice first and fast, so you can prepare and up your readiness and results before others even know what’s happening!

And Stand To? It’s the order used in the military to get forces to man the parapets and be in a heightened state of situational awareness and, yes, readiness, so they can face any threat or undertake any mission.

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin, President, Alcera Consulting Inc.

Industrial know how is a form of innovation and technology. In fact, this is the main reason that the Allies were able to prevail in World War 2 and achieve total victory over the Third Reich and Imperial Japan.

Think of the standardized Liberty supply ships from the US; almost 3,000 were built. The B29 was the most advanced aircraft of the war, with a remote-controlled tail gun and the ability to fly higher than any other manned aircraft on any side of the war. They were manufactured in the thousands (almost 4,000)! And what about everything else? The Manhattan Project, canned rations, freeze dried coffee, medical techniques and technology, logistics and operational research, the jeep, landing craft, amphibious vehicles, computers, decryption/encryption technology and methods, etc., etc.

The Sherman tank epitomizes US ingenuity and industrial innovativeness. It was manufactured in numerous versions depending on the manufacturer’s production methods. For instance, if a factory worked with welded plate steel, there was a version it could build; if it specialized in foundry, there was a version for that. I remember seeing a version of the Sherman engine that was really two Chrysler engines bolted together. Almost 50,000 Sherman tanks were built in the US during the war.

The Germans never even came close to that level of production capability and industrial know how. Add in the Soviets’ ability to mass produce simple but effective weapons and you can see that the Third Reich was doomed. That’s why the Germans were obsessed with “lightning” war. They had to win quickly and commandeer the resources of all Europe if they hoped to have a chance of winning.

Unsurprisingly, the German war economy was a chaotic mix of competing interests and fiefdoms. I read somewhere that the economy was never put on a full war footing until late 1942, when Speer took over armaments production. Moreover, there were multiple projects competing for limited resources. For instance, the Germans never decided on a standardized tank design like the western Allies (Sherman) and the Soviets (T34). This greatly complicated production and logistics. Moreover, German designs were technically very advanced, but also relatively fragile, difficult to maintain, and complex to manufacture. On the other hand, the Germans produced the first cruise missile (V1) and the first ever ballistic missile (V2). However, they relied too much on such “super” weapons that would supposedly win the war in one fell swoop by demoralizing or terrorizing the enemy.

As for the Japanese, their mindset was warped beyond comprehension by the Bushido warrior code of honour and loyalty. Witness the kamikaze concept. While the Germans and Allies were focused on minimizing their own casualties (for the latter, as long as they were useful to the war effort), the Japanese were sending their brave young men to certain death.

© 2017 Richard Martin. Reproduction and forwarding allowed for non-commercial purposes.

I had started graduate studies in military history and was participating in a seminar on First World War strategy. The professor was an expert on French-British relations during that war. We were discussing the effectiveness of the French Army’s commanders, generals like Nivelle, who planned and commanded a major offensive in 1917. Like most other offensives at that point of the war, it failed, with massive French casualties. This failure was one of the causes of a near revolt in the ranks and a refusal of a large number of French generals to continue prosecuting the war in what they felt was an ineffective manner. The professor, like many historians before him, said that Nivelle was like many of his colleagues. He had no respect for the life of his soldiers and was willing to squander resources on futile and brutal frontal attacks. Now, I wasn’t an expert on the particular battle under discussion, but I did point out that it is easy to question decisions and leadership from the sidelines. In football that’s called Monday morning quarterbacking, right?

One thing that was drilled into us during our professional military training was that how plans would actually perform in battle was pure conjecture. If there is one thing that we learned from military history, it was that the best laid plans could go awry at the worst possible time, sometimes for the most inane or innocuous reasons. In war as in so many other highly risky endeavors, we seldom achieve our ends with perfect precision, and there are many random and non-random factors that can throw us off our game.

The French experience in the Great War colored the after war lessons learned and planning for the next war during the 1930s. Just like the British and Commonwealth forces, the Americans, Russians, and Germans, the French drew many valuable lessons about tactics, technology, strategy, planning, and logistics during the war. Just like the others, they also experimented a lot, until they found methods and formulas that got results. But the lesson the French seemed to learn above all others was “never again.” After all, the Great War was called the “War to End All Wars.” For four long years, most of northern France—the country’s industrial heart—was amputated and under harsh German occupation. The French high command was determined that they would never again fight a war on French soil, and allow its occupation by a foreign power. The crucial lesson of the Great War was therefore the absolute necessity to fight the war outside France, and the best place to do that was in the Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and tiny Luxembourg. Mostly flat and open, the terrain to the north of France would allow the wide, sweeping maneuvering, and mechanized battles that had not transpired in the First World War in France between late 1914 and mid-1918, between the initial German Schlieffen plan, a wide flanking maneuver meant to encircle the main French forces between the eastern border with Germany and Paris. That it had failed was testimony to French resolve in 1914 and the “heroes of the Marne.” By mid-1918, everyone was exhausted, materially and psychologically, except the Americans, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. British and Commonwealth forces were using tanks and other mechanized forces in greater numbers, and a war of position and attrition suddenly turned mobile again.

It was this traumatic experience that underlay France’s resolve to defend itself by forcing a future fight with Germany as far north as possible, even into Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. So when the country invested in the massive and technologically wondrous Maginot Line, the idea wasn’t to cower passively behind it to absorb the Germany assault. It was rather an attempt to pin down German forces on the French-German border, while maneuvering further north with the bulk of the French Army’s elite mechanized divisions. The German army’s assault in May 1940 was a masterful combination of maneuver and subterfuge. The Germans knew they couldn’t possibly get through the Maginot Line. They also knew that simply replaying the Schlieffen Plan from 1914, which had already failed once, wouldn’t work.

They war gamed their options and came up with a novel solution. Send a significant armored force into the Netherlands and Belgium to create the impression that they were replaying the Schlieffen Plan, while sending token forces against the Maginot Line. The bulk of the German Army’s elite Panzer divisions meanwhile threaded their way through the Ardennes Forest in southwestern Belgium. The French High Command had estimated that such a maneuver was possible, but highly unlikely. French air force reconnaissance reported on the movements, but the French high command continued to evaluate the Ardennes thrust as a fake and the thrust through the Low Countries as the real deal. They quickly learned that it was the exact opposite. The Germans played on the French unwillingness to fight on French soil. They drew them north by playing to French expectations about the Germans’ intentions. Nazi Germany was a monstrous regime, but there is no denying that the Germany campaign to conquer the Low Countries and France in 1940 is one of the most creative and daring military maneuvers in history.

So, who learned the most from the experiences of the Great War? Can either side, France and its allies, or Germany, be said to have prepared exclusively for the last war? The situation is complex to the point that facile comparisons and pithy bromides can’t fully encapsulate the real lessons for both sides. Germany and France learned and adapted subsequent to the Great War, but they learned different things, in a different way. The difference wasn’t so much in tactics, operational art, and logistics, although these were factors. The real insight is that France and Germany had different mindsets when it came to readiness. The French were ready for a set-piece battle, orchestrated at the highest levels, and with little opportunity to reorganize on the fly when faced with a radically different battlefield situation than had been anticipated. There was little robustness or flexibility to adapt in a timely manner to German moves. When they realized what had happened and what was continuing to happen, the French high command and government became totally demoralized. Could they have continued fighting? Possibly. But they lost in their minds more than on the battlefields of northern France and the Low Countries. They were materially ready, but not psychologically or morally ready.

Conversely, the Germans had so much to lose going into the campaign that they had no choice but to be bold and take massive risks. That the risks paid off is a testament to the flexibility, resolve, and initiative of German leaders and commanders at all levels. The French military was larger, better equipped, had more and better tanks, guns, and aircraft. What the Germans lacked in materiel, they more than made up for in superior training, initiative, and resolve. They weren’t as ready as France materially, but psychologically, they were more than ready. That is what differentiated the two countries’ armed forces and, more importantly, high commands.

I admit it. I’m a history buff. Whether it’s reading about the Second World War, Renaissance Italy, the Roman Empire, or ancient Mesopotamia, I always find something of value in studying history.

I’m not talking about the so-called “lessons of history.” It’s more about gaining a general sense of perspective on current events by understanding three key things. First, human nature hasn’t changed that much in 2,500 (or perhaps even 5,000) years, with the consequence that events tend to reoccur in similar ways over time. I think it was Churchill who said, “History never repeats, but it does rhyme.”

Second, humans are pretty much the same everywhere. Yes, there are cultural differences. But we’re all basically the same. I’ve also observed this through my work and travels in many varied countries and cultures around the world.

The third point is that our current reality is contingent upon past events. Our world today didn’t just pop into existence the day before yesterday. You can’t understand the recent election of Justin Trudeau, for instance, without knowing that his father was prime minister from 1968 to 1984. Would he have been elected to head the Liberal party and now prime minister without that heritage? That’s not a criticism, but it is a legitimate observation and question.

By the same token, people complain a lot about how politics has supposedly degenerated in recent decades. We hear and read all the time that things used to be so much more civil. Really? Anyone with a passing knowledge of even the recent past will know that is not the case. Until the 1970s, bars and taverns were closed on election day because of the problems that were caused by round buying and brawling. A century ago, Protestants and Catholics fought street battles on Orange Day. Not just in Northern Ireland. In Canada. Go back a little further and see the level of invective during the presidential election before the US Civil War. If we go all the way back to the Roman Empire, only about 5 or 10 % of the emperors died peacably in their beds. Most of them were hacked to death.

In many ways, we live in peacable times, at least in civilized countries. But in many areas of the world, past history of the West is still playing out in political and civil violence. Maybe we’re fortunate, but I also like to think we’re reaping the benefits of past lessons and mistakes and our continuing upholding of civilized values and culture.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Brilliant Manoeuvre

Sometimes you need to withdraw in order to come back stronger and fight another day.

Discussion
One of the things I learned in the military and from my study of history is that you sometimes have to withdraw from a position of weakness where you can’t win in order to come back stronger with a better chance of dominating the field of battle. The Roman legions were expert at doing this, as were the British during the building of their empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. In business we sometimes insist on throwing good money after bad in a losing situation. It’s okay to be persistent, but when you’ve been trying for years to, say, break into a market without much success and it’s burning up huge amounts of capital, it may be time to withdraw in order to fight another day on another battlefield, with different weapons and from a position of strength.

Food for Thought

  • Have you been failing repeatedly with a new product or market despite sustained effort and huge investment in resources? What would be the effect of withdrawing from this approach?
  • Are you maintaining products or staying in markets because of pigheadedness, or because you can truly win with them?
  • Do you have raging successes that you have ignored because they didn’t fit your ideas of the business or strategy? What about more obscure successes within your business?
  • What would it take to elevate these unexpected successes to replace the repeated failures? Can you transfer resources from the latter to the former?
  • Do you have a systematic approach to experimenting with new products, markets, processes, and business models? Are you open to change or do you stick to your approaches in the face of contrary evidence?

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Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/Shows/The+National/ID/2398859334/

Michael Beschloss wrote a book about the immediate post-WWII period called The Conquerors. There was a struggle between the forces of vengeance and the forces of enlightened self interest. There was no lack of government officials in the Allied camp who were more interested in punishing the Axis countries than in reconciliation and setting the conditions for democracy and wealth. Churchill thought the Nazi leadership should be summarily executed. Hans Morgenthau wanted to return Germany and Japan to agrarianism. Roosevelt’s leadership, and then Truman’s, was key in ensuring hasty reconstruction and a return to normalcy (which was quick given the circumstances).

To contrast with the Marshall Plan, the Soviets set up socialist workers paradises in all of the countries they liberated, and then proceeded to loot them, East Germany being the worst case. Amongst other things, they moved hundreds of factories lock, stock and barrel to Russia. The US and the other Western allies disarmed quickly and only left token occupation forces in West Germany. The Soviets kept millions of troops in Eastern Europe. They did the same in Korea north of the 38th parallel.

Which has been more successful in the long run?

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes authorized with proper attribution.