The Strategy Of Survival

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You might say, with spiritual black humor, that it took the tremendous ingenuity of another group of Americans, that it took a tremendous bureaucratic perversion to finally strangle this ability to innovate. We have almost achieved it. Where we spend the most money we innovate the least. Take again the example of the aircraft carrier. The angled deck: a British innovation. As is the whole landing system. And the steam catapults. The Navy developed no part of the aircraft carrier. It couldn’t, precisely because it was focusing on it in a narrow-minded, incremental way.

Actually, the same qualities that give us innovation, which is ultimately this exceptionally self-confident belief in the value of individual lives and all those other things that are the basis of creativity, the same qualities have a perverse effect, because everything has to be legal and fair, and so elaborately fair that it conspires to create the slowest and most stultifying acquisitions procedures, to strangle everything, to systematically divert resources from the important to the unimportant. Because it is so hard to do anything new, you embellish the old. And everything is slowed down because of infinite care to avoid waste, fraud, and mismanagement, so you don’t give authority to any official. This is research and development not by men but by laws, and the effect of these laws is to slow everything down to the point that you do not get any advantage from being Americans.

That’s where the huge potential is. If you turned over the problem of stopping Soviet tanks to small engineering outfits and machine shops, to little companies in Silicon Valley, they’d figure out a way to do it. I don’t know what it would look like. I couldn’t begin to imagine. But I’ll tell you one thing: It wouldn’t look anything like what the Pentagon is doing now.