‘He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.’
On October 21, 1805, the British fleet met the French and Spanish fleet off the Cape of Trafalgar. The ships were similarly built and armed. The early nineteenth-century ship-of-the-line was a formidable war machine, consisting of 100,000 square feet of timber, 74 cannons (equivalent to the entire artillery force of most land armies), 600 to 700 men and boys. While they shared the same fighting platform, the British fleet was otherwise out-numbered, out-manned and out-gunned, with six fewer ships than the Franco-Spanish fleet, and considerably fewer soldiers. Yet, by the end of the day, the French and the Spanish had lost two thirds of their fleet, and suffered ten times as many casualties as the British. There are many historical reasons why this happened, but there are three that are of particular relevance to this book: strategy, capability and talent management.
From a talent perspective, the officer corps of the Spanish and French fleets was narrowly restricted to members of the aristocracy. In Bourbon France recruitment was limited to the elite trainee cadre of the Gardes de la Marine, educated on land in an essentially theoretical MBA-style curriculum. They studied hydrography and learnt how to fence, but regarded the practical skills involved in sailing a ship as well below their pay grade. ...