Keep It Simple: Lessons from D-Day

Keep It Simple: Lessons from D-Day 150 150 Edward Brzychcy

6 June 1944, 132,000 men storm ashore in the most massive amphibious assault in history. They are the spearhead to one of the largest, most complex, and crucial Allied operation of World War II.

Months of intelligence, planning, preparing, and even diversionary operations all came to a head in one grand event. Despite all this, General Montgomery, the ground commander for all Anglo-American forces under General Eisenhower, collected his battle plans for the invasion on a single piece of paper.
His note at the end was Simplicity“.

It’s an old rule for military operations; no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. The same can be said for many of our business plans, objectives, and goals. No business plan survives first contact with the customer, supplier, or other stakeholders.

For business, many of us are enamored with creating the most complex, comprehensive, and all-inclusive plan that covers as many contingencies as possible. However, the fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard we try, the contingencies will always get the better of us. Because the more complicated we make things, the more rigid they become, and the more difficult they are to change when it is most necessary – when things go wrong.

Everyday operations are one thing, but in business today, we are continually looking at more complex, dynamic, and competitive environments. Moreover, the more we try to adapt, change, and invoke order and design upon them the more we see ourselves being forced into one corner or another because the rigidity of our plans will not allow for on-the-spot improvisation, adaptability, and ease of realignment.

General Montgomery knew this as he was preparing his men to invade Fortress Europe. Also, he knew what was in his control once the wheels started turning, and once the battle plan was put to action that this was precious little. Once his men were on the boats, on their way across the English Channel, his influence was restrained, and he could do little to make any necessary changes.

His commanders on the ground accomplished these necessary adjustments, and these commander’s objectives, in turn, were achieved by their subordinates. Every man involved knew the plan and their goals. So each was empowered to make the necessary decisions to accomplish their objectives and missions.
This simplicity and trust serve as the penultimate example for us to follow as leaders in each of our realms, in the military, business, or entrepreneurship.

Our lanes and responsibilities are vast, especially as we move higher up in our relative hierarchies. However, we have to recognize that as our responsibilities widen, our ability to directly influence events and outcomes narrows. We cannot have our hands in everything. We do not have the luxury to dictate how everything will go in dynamic and changing environments. We have to have the ability to step back, lay the groundwork, provide the key frameworks to work within, and then allow our people to move forward with the support, training, and guidance that we provide them.

It can be said that very few things went off without a hitch on that fateful day in 1944. However, the preparedness and success of the men involved was not a matter of their superior officers holding their hands and guiding them through the operation step-by-step. It was a matter of being given the most robust possible guidance, training, equipment, and then letting them do their jobs, frequently adapting and improvising as necessary.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.