log(book)
Cover of Turn the Ship Around!.

Turn the Ship Around!

author: L. David Marquet (2012)
date read: 2021-03-11
pages: 272
lists: psychology , nonfiction
rating: β˜… β˜… β˜… β˜† β˜†

Anarchic structures are great, particularly at groups under a certain size. I know this, my friends know this – I didn’t expect a US submarine captain to know and advocate it. Yet that was the pleasant surprise I got.

Marquet knowing all this is great to read, him advocating it less so – reading this book is much more fun when you read it as a cool guy telling life stories, than when you read it as the management book it’s intended to be. That’s mostly because he has a good grasp on how all of this works, because he’s done it for a long time. But he only had to introduce it once (at scale, in his own group), so it’s like his success was mostly driven by intuition and courageous poking around, and all the lessons he draws from it won’t replicate for anybody else.

He emphasises that in leader-leader structures (as opposed to leader-follower), you get much better results because everybody will support a shared goal to their best abilities, and complex operations can be prepared much more seamlessly because you don’t have to rely on a central point of failure tracking all ongoing motions. Plus, this is a self-perpetuating stable system – when an important person leaves, the system does not collapse (as can be the case in hierarchical systems), and newcomers can be introduced to the system by the responsible members.

Neither permission nor forgiveness: intent

Instead of asking for permission, or ignoring boundaries and asking for forgiveness later: declare intent. Rewording like that consistently will make you more proactive and will make it clear that you are taking responsibility.

Say clearly what you mean to do – and give as much context as appropriate. If you need permission, give as much context as your supervisor will need (e.g. the things you have checked, the alternatives you have considered, the preparations you have made). This has the advantage that you, and everybody else, has to try at least for a second and see things from the perspective of their supervisor.

This is something I see a lot while organising events – there is a relatively clear split between people who always want to request permission to do something (or say “What should I do about …”, “Do you think we should …”, “Could we maybe …”) and the people who present plans or intentions (“I plan on …”, “I intend to …”, “I will …”). Those are still up for discussion, of course, but the change in atmosphere is huge.

Competence

Additionally, Marquet makes a good point that is underrated in the hierarchy vs anarchy debate: “As authority is delegated, technical knowledge at all levels takes on a greater importance.” When you push decision making to the people actually involved and at the scene, it’s important that they have the competence to make those decisions. You have to take more care to have good education programs, pass around important information, and that everybody can handle the responsibility. He offers some thoughts on education that won’t apply outside military structures, and one thought on plans and meetings: When you have a meeting for the purpose of planning/making sure everybody is on the same page, instead of announcing the shared information and letting everybody nod, try this: Have everybody state their part and understanding. “I’m going to do X”, “then I’m going to see Y”. Less listening to plans, more tabletop RPG, nearly? I wonder if tabletop RPG players on average tend to have more initiative and less leader-follower behaviour πŸ€”

Misc

He makes a couple of points that I like a lot:


27/ Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet. An unlikely advocate for decentralised, anarchic structures. Much better as a memoir than as the management book it wants to be. https://books.rixx.de/l-david-marquet/turn-the-ship-around/
27/ Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet. An unlikely advocate for decentralised, anarchic structures. Much better as a memoir than as the management book it wants to be. https://books.rixx.de/l-david-marquet/turn-the-ship-around/ #rixxReads

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