This is a portrait of Admiral Sir John Fisher as First Sea Lord. To save the Royal Navy and to push it ahead of all other navies at at time, he set in motion a change in culture that risked losing it all. He knew that if he did not make this change, another navy, the US, France or Germany would do what had to be done and then the RN would never catch up.
His story will be retold soon in modern organizational life.
Some leader, whose organization is at the top of the tree, will recognize that, unless he or he makes the real change, a competitor will and that will be the end.
This person will make this change, knowing that it also will mean that all the rules that made that organization #1 will have to change and that the organization will have to start again from scratch. But they will make it knowing that, when you have the headstart in this type of race, you will keep the lead.
I tell this story as part 2 of a 3 part series (Part 1 is here) on why and how this change will happen and why I think that Change Agents Worldwide or CAWW, the network I have just joined, may be able to help in this great matter.
In this story we will look at 3 ships and the century long transition it took for the RN to shift from sail to the modern battleship. It is a story of how success and power holds you back. It is a story of how it takes a wrenching change from the TOP to shift a powerful player in an old paradigm to take leadership in the new.
In part 1 of this series, I told the story of how the people change. Millions of people are ready for the network world and the technology that will support this is here. It just all has to be put together in the right way. This is what our story is all about.
HMS Victory was built in the 1760's. She was already an old ship by 1805 and the Battle of Trafalgar where the RN took hold of a global dominance that it held until 1918.
Here she is in about 1900.
She embodied not only the paradigm of sail and wood but also as importantly a culture.
It was her culture that lived on well into the age of steam, steel and turret guns. As much as anything, this was what Fisher had to change. For the real problem that faced him, and all navies, was that if you used the culture of Nelson in a modern warship, you would fail. The culture would not support the new tool to have the full use of its new power.
Here is what Fisher had to work to overcome.
In Nelson's navy, the #1 rule in combat was to get in close. It was to close the enemy and pound. It was all about courage and the kind of training that meant that the RN would out gun the enemy. Any one who stood back could risk execution as Admiral Byng found who was shot for cowardice.
This would make it very hard for a big gun ship who could shoot miles away. The RN did not shoot from far away. In Nelson's navy, real men got close. It was all about courage and class. It was bad form to use science or distance.
In the sail navy, watch officers were gods. So if you were an engineer, you had no standing. This was going to make it very hard for engineers who would be needed to run all the machinery of the steam navy. The Navy saw itself as a club of gentlemen. They saw engineers as lower class people who had got their place not through family and character but by going to school.
These kind of cultural differences are what holds back the traditional organization today. We have a view of the kind of relationships that are normal and best. These do not work in the network world. We have a view of the kind of skills and the kind of person that fits best too. These skills and these kinds of people are not enough in the network world either.
So the RN then, and we today, end up with something that looks modern but that actually has very little capability when compared with what could be possible.
And this is what this looks like. HMS Inflexible in 1881. Her first captain, had been Fisher himself!
At first glance , she may look quite modern to you. She is made of steel. She is steam driven. She has a huge turret amidships with 16 inch guns. She has masts but only as insurance.
But she is not modern and has very little real capability. And the reason is that she is operated and so designed using Nelsonic culture.
The big guns are muzzle loaders and take a long time to load. They have to be swung into line with the body of the ship and are loaded and rammed from there. She is designed to fight alongside the enemy. Her engineering crew have very little status. One of the key signs of success in the navy at this time was how clean the ship was. Hard to pull off when powered by coal.
She looked mean but really it was the mystique of the RN that was her real power.
From the 1880's until 1905, this is what navies did. They all added features of the new but all kept the old culture. Is this not what most organizations are doing too today?
But, by 1900, all navies were wondering if a ship that only had big guns and that would enagage at long distance would be the winner. Of course such a ship would invalidate doctrine and make all existing ships obsolete overnight. But who knew, so no one made the dangerous move.
In 1905 this idea was tested at the Battle of Tsushima. Here the Japanese under Admiral Togo demolished the Russian fleet. The opening shots were fired at 6,200 metres disabling the Russian flag ship. Later analysis showed that only the big guns had any value. It was also clear that being slow was fatal. Much more engineering had to go into the propulsion.
So Fisher was faced with a terrible decision. If he built a ship that embodied the new culture, he would make very ship in the RN obsolete and he would up end the operational culture. All other navies could start from ground zero with him. But if he did not, then the RN would lose for sure.
This is where a leader is going to find themselves today. We are going to see a new entrant demolish an old one using the new. We are going to see the proof of the value of the network. And then a brave leader of the okd will have to take the plunge and go for the new themselves.
Here she is. HMS Dreadnought of 1905/6. She is the embodiment of the new.
She has steam turbines and not reciprocating engines. She used coal but coal that was mixed with oil to give a higher burn. She was faster than any other capital ship in the world.
She had 10 12 inch guns in five turrets and had a barrage twice the weight of any other ship.
She was designed to fight at a distance and she had to have first class engineers and gunners.
She could sink an entire opposing fleet of old ships.
This is what it is like to put the whole package together.
Of course, Fisher met with massive opposition inside the leadership of the Navy. For in producing Dreadnought he hurt many of his peers who were completely invested in the old. But he also saved the navy. By being first, the RN stayed ahead of all others and kept it dominance until the end of WWI.
The hard work will be cultural design. Culture is created by having a set of habits. Learning a new culture then is like learning to fly. You can read every book under the sun, but in the end you have get into a cockpit with a person who is a pilot and learn new habits - many of which don't make any sense - from this person. Only when these habits are "Habitual" and so you don't have to think about them - do you know how to fly. And even then, you have other stages. No Navy pilot lands on the deck of a carrier without a series of new learnings under their belt. Learnings that are best learned from a person that has done all of this and is a personal master of the issue.
The old organization that embraces the new will not able to stop learning when they solo in a single engine Cessna. This is Navy flying.
In the third and last post of this series, I will make the case for why it is likely that you might find such instructors in CAWW and not in a conventional practice.