Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Replacing planning with coordination

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 27, 2008

Panzer tanksThe title of this post is taken from a section of Clay Sharkey’s ‘Here Comes Everybody – the power of organizing without organizations’ which I mentioned that I was reading when the creative binge (see this from wikipedia) that resulted in ‘Explore China‘ (and some other exciting things) started just over a month ago.

In the section in question, Sharkey makes a point which is very relevant to my last post.  He argues that the reason that the Battle of France turned out the way it did was not because the Germans had better tanks than the French.  According to Sharkey, the French tanks were actually superior to the Panzers.  But the German tanks were equipped with radios, unlike those of the opposition.  This meant that the minds of the German tank commanders were networked together and they could adapt to changing circumstances much more effectively than the French, who had to stick to a pre-arranged plan.

An interesting point in the wikipedia article on the Battle of France is the claim that one of the German commanders, Guedarian, later said that he’d pretty much invented the idea of Blitzkreig during the battle.  Another well known military commander, Dwight D Eisenhower, was once asked how important plans were in the successful execution of battles.  He replied ‘plans are nothing, planning is everything’.  He meant, of course, that if you think hard about all aspects of a situation you’re much better equipped to exploit opportunities that arise and deal with unforseen problems.  The ‘plan’ becomes irrelevant.  This suggests that Sharkey’s heading should be ‘Replacing Plans with Coordination’, not planning.

I do hope, therefore, that none of the management consultants who are being paid £3bn a year (or were, in 05/06) to do work for the public sector, are writing plans for their clients.  As Eisenhower could have told them, plans developed like this would be pretty much worthless.

Incidentally, my late father once told me a story about a meeting he’d been at when he worked at SHAPE, near Mons in Belgium.  The team of engineers finished their meeting discussing a trip one of them was due to take to Paris.  A German member of the team said it had once taken him four days to drive from Belgium to Paris.  He had made the journey by tank.

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