Book Report: Turn the Ship Around

I just finished reading retired US Navy Captain David Marquet’s book Turn the Ship Around.  I’m fascinated by Navy culture in general--the idea that a boat full of people, stuff to sustain the people, and weapons to fight a war can set off all by themselves into the vast ocean for weeks or months at a time in order to provide for the country’s defense.  Add in the submarine aspect, in which all of the above happens under the water, and it’s even more fascinating to me.  In addition to the Navy setting, I found myself agreeing almost completely with Capt Marquet’s concepts on leadership, so even better. 

In a book that’s stuffed full of insightful, actionable information, there were a couple of big-picture ideas that really jumped out at me. 

First and foremost, we (the US military) are damned good at what we do.  I view the world of the military through an Air Force lens, of course, but the same factors that produce our high performance culture exist in equal measures in the other services as well. 

When viewed as an outsider, the feats of engineering, logistics, maintenance, manpower and operations required to launch a nuclear powered submarine seem borderline miraculous.  I could say the same thing about the concept of deploying a squadron of fighter jets along with all of the associated support equipment, weapons and personnel to an austere location and having that squadron ready to fight all in the span of a couple of days.  To this day, I’m still in awe of what a dedicated team of professionals can pull off when the culture is right. 

The second lesson I took away is that in the Navy, same as in the Air Force, the secret that drives the macro level performances—launching submarines on multi-month operational deployments or delivering combat airpower anywhere on the globe on short notice—derives from individuals doing the non-sexy little things right day in and day out.  Two billion dollar submarines and squadrons of fifty million dollar fighter jets mean nothing unless they’re maintained, replenished, armed and operated by individuals doing a million little things right every day. 

Those “little things” aren’t exclusive to the military.  Our mission differs from most civilian enterprises of course, but the foundation for reaching peak performance looks exactly the same.  In fact, that’s why picking up a copy of Turn the Ship Around is as good an investment for someone who runs a 50-employee small business as it is for a mid-grade officer in the Navy who’s looking to sharpen his leadership skills in preparation for an assignment in which he’ll in charge of his own ship. 

As a bonus recommendation, if you’re interested in a book that focuses on the history of US submariners during the Cold War, pick up a copy of Blind Man’s Bluff.  The story of tapping into an undersea Soviet communications cable by itself is worth the price of the book. 

Jeffrey OrrComment