A Complex Learning System
A Complex Learning System: Evolution of the U.S. Navy’s Tactical Doctrine Before and During World War II
The five decades between the Spanish-American War and the end of World War II were a time of revolutionary technological change. Navies struggled to assimilate new ship types—dreadnought battleships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, and submarines—and integrate them with new technologies, like analog fire control computers, radio, and radar. The U.S. Navy stood out in its ability to harness those new technologies and develop them to expand the fleet’s fighting power, exploiting them with remarkable effectiveness in World War II. What qualities enabled the Navy to be so adept at this? Trent Hone argues that the Navy was successful at leveraging change because it created a sophisticated learning system. This system allowed naval officers to evolve their tactical doctrine, adapt faster than opponents, and successfully harness new technologies. Hone will discuss several of the Navy’s innovations from this period, analyze the conditions that enabled them to emerge, and illustrate the opportunities they created. By considering the Navy as a complex adaptive system, he draws new and valuable insights for how organizations evolve, innovate, and learn. These are just as relevant today as they were a century ago.
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