Innovation By Those Who Lack Imagination.
On a chilly February morning in 1906 HMS Dreadnought was launched. From that moment onwards, she outclassed every other battleship. Made obsolete at a stroke. Dreadnought was better armed, better armoured, faster, you name it. Nothing could touch her. Nothing could get near her. The world’s navies had little ships that had only four guns. Now even if they were small ships, these weren’t toys. Seriously big guns and the things they lobbed towards you weighed half a ton. That isn’t the sort of thing you bat back with a tennis racket. Nevertheless, HMS Dreadnought had ten and threw five tons at you for every two you shot at her. You aren’t going to hang around long and have that sort of evidence written all over you.
HMS Dreadnought: Britain’s Naval USP.
She was what the planners thought of as being Britain’s Naval USP. The impact was so complete that every other battleship afloat became known as a “Pre-Dreadnought”. Imagine if your advertising was as effective – the problem for the British was the cost. HMS Dreadnought cost £1 800 000. That is billions in today’s money. Was it well spent? She is remembered by some.
Forgotten by more.
Unknown to most.
Because HMS Dreadnought was more of a commodity – a brand image – than any USP. A USP doesn’t cost that sort of money, it takes a lot of imagination though. And insight.
As always, planners think in straight lines. You don’t need much in the way of imagination when you’re tied to a desk. Having had their breakthrough moment with His Majesty’s Ship Dreadnought, there really wasn’t that much they could do with her – for all British ships are by tradition female. Those of you who know me would probably agree to the wisdom of that.
The Commonplace Dreadnought.
The leap into the dark had been made, and dreadnoughts settled into the new normality. If you didn’t have one, you weren’t anybody. Anybody who wanted to be anybody had to have them. So everybody had them. This was an arms race in every sense of the word. They all of them cost around two million British pounds. No small outlay. Everybody was blindly copying in the way that the unimaginative always do. By doing exactly the same thing as everybody else. Nobody thought of the expense, everybody feared the danger Dreadnoughts presented. There was no thought given to outwitting them. Oh, and blunt national prestige had no small part too of course.
By 1912 technology had inched ahead. HMS Dreadnought had been eclipsed herself! Guns were bigger, ships faster. The super-dreadnought had arrived. They were more expensive too. Yet everyone kept spending money on the things! When war came in 1914 there were hundreds of them scooting all over the place – and avoiding each other as if they had the plague. They were just too expensive a toy to play with, let alone sink! Dreadnought never sank a ship herself. She – sank a submarine. The only battleship ever to do so.
These floating castles dotted the seas. There was no way to beat the things. They were simply too big and too well armoured. That meant battles between them were extremely rare. Dreadnought herself missed the biggest bash of all off the Danish coast of Jylland. Several ships were sunk, many more damaged. The result was inconclusive with both Britain and Germany claiming victory.
The Key To Dealing With Commodities And Monopolies: Your Imagination.
Now it is 1918 and the war is almost over. Not so fast! Early one morning out of the dark that precedes the dawn, somebody saw something. Waving to friends they both slowly cruised up and past some other sleepy ships. An immense silhouette stands black against the brightening sky. All is quiet. Quiet enough to hear the waves break on the bows. A few quietly spoken orders and the heavy splash of torpedoes hitting the water.
By the time the alarm was raised the attackers had vanished. SMS Szent Istvan of the Austro-Hungarian navy lists slowly. Several hours later, she capsizes and then slips beneath the cool waves of the Adriatic where she lies to this day.
Two Davids sank Goliath. The last battleship sunk in the First World War. Sunk by two motor torpedo boats that had stumbled upon her by accident. The pride and prestige of a nation done for by something that was little more than a rowing boat.
Someone used their imagination and exploited an opportunity that the planners never thought of. No matter how fierce the competition might be, there is always an opportunity. Only watch out, because those who lack imagination will copy you straight. Your own imagination is the key to outwitting their poor attempts at imitation.