How a Pearl Harbor Happens

How a Pearl Harbor Happens December 7, 2019

December 7th was a day that would live in infamy. The Empire of Japan was the malefactor, but a complacent and racist United States government was the enabler.

Why remember Pearl Harbor? Japan is now a democratic ally under an enlightened Emperor. Only a few brave souls now remember “where they were” when everything changed because of Pearl.

Pearl Harbor happened, but might have been avoided. The lives lost were precious and the ships sunk needed. While the United States won the war in the Pacific against totalitarian Japan, the fight was costly and might have been lost. Just because everything turned out “well” in the end, does not mean the beginning should not be examined and mistakes noted.

While most of us will never run a nation, many of us manage ventures and should learn the lessons of Pearl Harbor. 

The “unexpected” blow was, to some extent, expected but not intelligently. We knew that the Empire of Japan likely would strike without declaring war, but where, how, and with what forces?

Ignorance, in this case racism, caused the United States to underestimate the challenge. 

The United States government, dominated by a Democratic government that got much of her support from white segregationists, never bothered to understand Japanese culture or values. Governments should not believe their own propaganda, but the United States did.

So it is with the many companies, industries, or non-profits. Racism seems obvious to us, but underestimating “them” for reasons that turn out to be rotten is common. “They” are just this, that, or the other thing until “their” thing becomes the winning thing.

Fighting the Last War: Confusing the universal and eternal with the way “we” do things “now.” 

Perhaps the most common is to confuse eternal principles with particular solutions to problems. World War I taught the combatants that the nineteenth century way of making war was dead. World War II was a painful lesson that the lessons of World War I were killing those who clung to them.

Pearl Harbor’s devastation happened in part, because the United States was slow to learn what was happening right before our eyes in Europe and China. The battleship is the queen of the fleet and will always be so. The aircraft carrier exists to protect the battleship, until someone shows that the way to win has changed. The principles endure, one should still get there “firstest with the mostest,” but what is “most” and so must be “first” constantly changes.

Men must always eat, but one day they turned to a microwave to pop the corn instead of Jiffy Pop on the stovetop.   “Online” education is a fad and so can be ignored, until everyone who mocked online gets into it too late and out of date. Television, with tiny screens in black and white, will never compete with motion pictures until it shatters the industry. The Soviet Union is here to stay until gone forever.

Ignore (Functionally) the Change Agents (Prophets of the New Age).

The death of any business or non-profit is when it falls into the hands of the managers steeped in best practices. They study what has worked, then apply those methods to their own business. Soon every widget maker, college, or church is doing exactly the same things, though usually with “our spirit/mission/twist.” The uniformity chokes out all innovation and such a system becomes ripe for seemingly sudden devastation.

Almost as bad, as we saw in American government before Pearl Harbor, is to placate the prophet. Many organizations will keep the naysayer on salary and even implement a few of his suggested changes. They will assume that “best practices” (from the past) plus some innovation (on the edges) will be the safest way. It is not. One cannot allow some digital image making while staying solidly in the film camp: ask Kodak.

At least when the disaster comes, as come it will, there is potential leadership. Generally, however, (unlike the USA after Pearl Harbor) a company or non-profit will blame the change agent or prophet as if his predicted doom hastened the fall. 

The United States won World War II, because we woke up after Pearl Harbor. Most organizations do not.

Let’s remember Pearl Harbor and shake the small minded bigotry, antiquated “best practices,” and listen to those who predicted what is coming to pass.

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