Submarines, Shakespeare and Startups

Posted: November 30, 2011 in Direct Thoughts, General Discussion

The USS Sand Lance Nuclear Submarine

I have been doing some work lets say ‘out of the ordinary’ as of late.  I have also been extremely honored to be working around some former people who were directly involved “when peace broke out” during the Cold War.   I have also had the opportunity to work with people who have backgrounds in literature who now work in the technical industry.  Also, dear readers, as most of you know I am fond of the entrepreneurial spirit.    This  led me to thinking about how they all interrelate and then like magic!  Submarines, Shakespeare and Startups.

Submarines

So lets pick the first one: Submarines.  Some of submariners that I know were directly involved with designing, building and operating submarines.  Specifically Nuclear Powered submarines.   In listening to the stories I noticed how much in common Submarines have with Startups.   Let me be specific herewith:  I am referring to fast attack nuclear submarines.  Here is a wikipedia page for reference: Fast Attack Nuclear Submarines – Los Angeles Class.  I am also referring to problems areas posed as to why Russian Submarines were quieter than USA submarines (if your interested do the google grunt work).

So first let me explain why I believe in this day and age of Lean Startup mentality why we can learn a great deal from those that travel below the ocean surface.

Submariners are consumate planners.

Submariners are by definition – independent operations.  From the perspective of information and physical support the design, building and operation places a premium on planning.   The Commanding Officer (CO) must “go with what they know and have got”.  Efficiency is key.  Space is a premium.  Intelligence at the highest level are mandatory across all aspects of the design, operation and mission.

Submarines are the epitome of stealth

Submarines have been recognized as the preeminence of contributions to stealth and survival.  For instance the greater degree of enemy’s knowledge of the submarine – in both space and time – the greater the diminsihment of the submarines effectiveness.  Stealth relates to safety and the mission of the ship relates to efficiency.  Signature Management is the term given to the ability to lower the footprint of detection.  It ia also known as Stealth Technology.  Stealth technology also termed LO technology (low observable technology) is a sub-discipline of military tactics and passive electronic countermeasures,which cover a range of techniques used with personnel, aircraftshipssubmarines, and missiles, to make them less visible (ideally invisible) to radarinfraredsonar and other detection methods.  Stealth Startup anyone?

Submariners are Concise and Focused

Submariners need to be extremely consice in all matters of communication.  In most cases receiving communications may always be accomplished but it may need to be managed around mission critical requirements.  These mission critical requirements are in most cases time sensitive  In many cases communication transmission may not always be available without mission impact.  Thus one needs to be concise and make decision in-situ at the moment and go with what they know.  Communications are minimized while maximizing the ability to war-fight.

Shakespeare

Nowadays, literature folks abound in the technical sector.  I also include english majors and people who dig 17th century poems like Milton’s Paradise Lost in the group.  Why?  They know how to communicate and weave disparate information.  They also know how to tell a story.  They also know how to use commas accordingly.   Shakespeare being the preeminent example of author and playwright wrote stories that naturally mirrored life’s twists and turns.  What does this have to do with startups?  Let us take an example from Hamlet (NOTE: this a cliff notes exceprt from SparkNotes)

” On a dark winter night, a ghost walks the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Discovered first by a pair of watchmen, then by the scholar Horatio, the ghost resembles the recently deceased King Hamlet, whose brother Claudius has inherited the throne and married the king’s widow, Queen Gertrude. When Horatio and the watchmen bring Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and the dead king, to see the ghost, it speaks to him, declaring ominously that it is indeed his father’s spirit, and that he was murdered by none other than Claudius. Ordering Hamlet to seek revenge on the man who usurped his throne and married his wife, the ghost disappears with the dawn.” ~ SparkNotes on Hamlet

Ok so how does this relate to startups?  Or submarines for that matter?  Inquiring minds want to know!  We have Stealth, Revenge and Strategy all rolled into one simple paragraph! Notwithstanding the whole sword fighting thingy (technical term) between Hamlet and Laertes! This!  This is the stuff of true competition!   Moreover Shakespeare mirrors life, life is about humans, humans are bat-house crazy, ergo startups are crazy!

So lets look at three aspects of many of the characters in Shakespeare’s plays and stories:

Shakespeare characters are consumate planners

Revenge usually takes planning.  Lets take the character Fortinbras, who has led an army to Denmark and attacked Poland earlier in the play, enters with ambassadors from England, who report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead (ok think all that took some planning by Fortinbras or he just waltzed in?) . Fortinbras is stunned by the gruesome sight of the entire royal family lying sprawled on the floor dead (Ok Fortinbras time to make a quick decision). He moves to take power of the kingdom. Horatio, fulfilling Hamlet’s last request, tells him Hamlet’s tragic story (how nice of him).

Shakespeare characters are the epitome of stealth

Ghost and Witches.  Need I say more?  Don’t we create apparitions when we sell our pitch deck?  How about the reality distortion field?  Yes?

Shakespeare characters are consise and focused

Well they are  when it comes to salient aspects such as revenge, de-throning and well murder!   Things that carry high price tags if you really that can go off the rails – people get really motivated.  Kind of like startups.

So let me be specific here on startups.  I really like the terminology Lean Startups.  The book is great if you havent read it.  That said its really nothing new.  Incremental feedback based on whether a customer could really use something is a basic business premise.  We all have gotten caught up in making something “kewl” because we could but so what?  A little known fact is that process doesnt make great companies or great software.  Getting stuff done is about making a great startup.    Also having the ability to NOT PANIC is a good attribute for your founders and initial team.   Think a submariner stuck under the ice can afford to panic?  What good will panicking do?

Which in turn leads me to another issue on a recent development in the startup arena and that is the issue of Aegism and Founder Prejudice. Yep I said it.  It also cuts both ways.  Older founders and employers are seen as dinasours or cannot go the distance and younger persons do not have the pedigree to get through the tough times.  You need both.  Its a syncopated system.  I do prefer to work with those that have been stuck under the ice and do not panic.  If your in a startup you will get stuck under the ice.  Then what?  I dont care how many lines of ruby,perl,python etc you can write.  So can the next person.  Be calm.  Always remember to breathe and use the restroom, head or latrine.  Take your pick.

Remember:  To do a dangerous thing with style is the mark of a professional.  – #TCTRules.

For those that are interested here are some references:

1) Submarine Plans  from Alexander the Great to 1994

2) Submarine Technology for the 21st Century by Zimmerman

until then go big or go home!

@tctjr

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