You Can’t Get Far Without a Few Dead Ends

Welcome to Dead Ends Week at CIMSEC, where we will pick apart past experiments and initiatives that just didn’t quite pan out. Some of them you may have heard of – others will be quite obscure. All will be informative, and hopefully a little entertaining.

A couple of ideas inspired Dead Ends Week and inform all the pieces to a certain extent. First, success is an iterative process. A lot of different things will get tried along the way to a winning solution, and many of them just won’t work out – but even those dead ends offer lessons in how to succeed later. Where appropriate, these posts will attempt to capture at least some of the lessons learned.

And second, to invert a famous quote, failure was an option in most of the examples examined here. Obviously no one likes to fail – however, failure in any one of these small initiatives would not have doomed an entire country or military strategy (with a possible exception in czarist Russia, as you’ll see later this week). The point being, if a prerequisite to success is some educational failure, then failure needs to be affordable. And if it’s affordable, then chances are you have the resources to hedge your bets and have a parallel project with a different approach to the same problem.

The paradoxical upshot: if failure is truly not an option at the macro level, be prepared to accept some failure at the micro level.

Over the coming week, you will see genius, idiocy, gallantry, cowardice, sailing ships, steam ships, circles, sonar domes, gun decks, poop decks, trapeze acts and Nigel Tufnel.

And if that doesn’t sound like a parade of spectacular failure… well, I guess my writing ability has hit a dead end.

Matt McLaughlin is a Navy Reserve lieutenant and strategic communications consultant who grew up on a cul-de-sac, which isn’t quite a dead end but is pretty close. His opinions do not represent the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or his employer.

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