Blitzkrieg: Lessons in Organizational Agility and Strategy
by Stephen Bungay
The German campaign in France in May 1940 introduced the world to the word Blitzkrieg – ‘lightning war’ – with a terrific shock. In just six weeks the Wehrmacht decisively defeated an enemy with whom only twenty years before it had struggled in vain for over four years.
It did so by deploying agility against superior strength. Agility enabled it to deliver shock and surprise, and to control tempo – the number of events in a given period of time which require a competitive response. The campaign ended when the competitive response was zero.
Agility is valuable in business as well as in war, and it is much talked about today in both contexts. In his keynote presentation, Stephen Bungay will use the example of the German Army to examine what it takes to build and use organizational agility in the context of strategy, and will suggest that it is the tip of an iceberg for operational and competitive excellence.
In a description of the events of 1940, he will show how the Germans deployed an operational capability built up over decades to strategic effect, bringing out the different roles played by the top leadership, the distributed leaders, and individuals right down to ordinary soldiers.
He will then step back in time and explain how this capability itself evolved, starting with a leadership culture developed in the Prussian Army in the 19th century and fostered by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder and embodied in Doctrine.
He will then trace how that culture and doctrine enabled the development of a set of capabilities which were first fully deployed in 1918, but ultimately failed. Learning from that failure, the German Army solved each of the problems that had led to their defeat and developed those capabilities further to create the operational features of what became known as Blitzkrieg.
Its elements are fundamental to any organisation which seeks to be agile, and are as valid today as they were 80 or 160 years ago.