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21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era (21st Century Foundations) Paperback – February 15, 2015
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“Given recent Department of Defense efforts to stimulate and foster innovation, 21st Century Sims is both timely and useful. Like the other books in the 21st Century Foundations series, this book is worth reading for naval and military audiences, as well as for those who are interested in innovation, especially innovation driven from within a large, established organization. Perhaps one of Armstrong’s most salient points on Sims is that ‘true innovation and reform are about ideas and people. Reading and learning from past innovation and from reform leaders like Sims can provide both inspiration and important lessons learned for today’s officers.’ Armstrong effectively combines a great selection of Sims’s works, contextualizes these works well, and provides insightful commentary.”―Military Review
"Military officers might read 21st Century Sims to sharpen their ability to think about the problems of future war and how to make the most out of limited defence resources. Defence officials might use Sims’s discussion of war gaming and the effect of aircraft and submarines on naval warfare to consider the implications of today’s emerging capabilities, such as long-range missiles and autonomy-enabled systems. Sims’s emphasis on people, especially in times of austerity, seems particularly relevant as Western militaries shrink and threats to international security grow. He urged the graduates of the US Naval War College in 1922 to focus on the ‘condition of training and morale as to make the best of any material conditions that may be imposed upon us’ (p. 134). In democracies, generals and admirals get the militaries that their citizens are willing to pay for. As Sims advised, it is their job to do the best they can with what they are provided."―Survival: Global Politics and Strategy (IISS.org)
“The essays are followed by an epilogue in which Armstrong provides an insight into what Sims’ contemporaries thought of him. It reinforces the view of Sims as a man who was idolized by junior officers as the man who ‘attacked cherished beliefs as shams.’ 21st Century Sims is essential reading for the student of naval strategy; it is also highly recommended for those interested in innovation and civil-military relations.”―Warship 2016
“The value of these books lies in their highly-readable format which presents essentially a ‘best of’ collection of Sims’ work. Recommended for the historian at heart but more so, for all junior Naval officers.”―Starshell
“In conclusion, Sims serves as a model for all leaders and challenges us to examine our personal and professional development. How do we compare in our dedication to duty, our commitment to discipline and moral courage, our ability to innovate, and our ability to challenge ourselves continuously by learning? One could argue that we need a young Lieutenant Sims today if we are to remain a world power. The question is, Would we recognize a Lieutenant Sims in the twenty-first-century Navy? This is a welcome addition to the '21st Century Foundations' series from the Naval Institute Press, informative, inspiring, and a must-read for those interested in leader development. The bibliography provides further reading recommendations to enhance the reader’s interest in this topic.”―Naval War College Review
“This reviewer has no hesitation recommending the enjoyable and informative essays presented, all ably arranged and supported by the commentary of Benjamin Armstrong. Enlightening to the more junior, even senior officers will gain a better understanding of one of the service’s leading lights and take something of value away.”―International Journal of Naval History
“This is the second in a series (the first was 21st Century Mahan) which aims to give a contemporary perspective on the work of the great strategists of the past, taking a selection of their writings and placing them alongside short introductory essays which demonstrate their relevance today. The editor, Benjamin Armstrong, is to be congratulated on his format and his choice of material. His own words never overpower those of Sims (the introductions are never more than three or four pages) and, crucially, he does not tell the reader what to think. He does, however, adroitly pull out the major points.
“There are six articles by Sims in the book, mostly culled from the USNI Proceedings magazine, and they range from discussions on preparations for war (‘if ships that have never been trained together as a fleet were to fight a battle’ … [they would be] … ‘outmanoeuvred and beaten’) to promotion (‘Before 1900, promotion in the Navy was solely by seniority. The requirements were: keep your digestion in order and refrain from striking your superior officer. The result was inevitable; all were promoted except the notoriously too bad, and they had to be really bad’).
“But what is Sims’ legacy? Gunnery? Destroyers? Convoys? Education? It is probably much simpler than any of those. It is probably the fact that he encouraged others to be as annoying as he was. Why do we do it that way? Not good enough. Why? Why? Why?
“And now? Will we be afflicted by military conservatism in the next defence review? This book won’t provide the answer to that, but it might stir the blood a little. Armstrong dedicates it to the ‘Society for the Repression of Ignorant Assumption.’ How do I join?
“Recommended.”―The Naval Review
"In 21st Century Sims Benjamin Armstrong provides us with a fascinating insight into one of the Navy's greatest innovators, Admiral William Sims. While interesting as history, what's more important for the modern reader is the relevance of these insights for the problems faced by today's organizations, both public and private sector. The difficulties faced by Sims and other early innovators in advancing naval gunnery, championing the use of steam over sail power, introducing submarines and aircraft into naval tactics, and countering the innate conservatism of senior managers is as relevant today as it was a century ago. The present problems may be different (the rise of the internet, cyber warfare, disruptive technical change, etc.), but the fundamental problems faced by Sims are the same-and his advice on leadership and change is prescient and valuable for leaders today."―Professor Charles O'Reilly, Stanford Graduate School of Business
"21st Century Sims offers a snapshot of a remarkable naval mind, well ahead of its time both in its mode of thinking and its embrace of a professional ethos that saw naval service not merely as a job, but as a sacred trust. This book provides an excellent opportunity to glean insights from a key, albeit relatively obscure figure, who nevertheless made considerable contributions to his field and continues to offer educational value for aspiring leaders, both military and civilian."―TheBestDefense.com
“In his new book, 21st Century Sims, USN LCDR Benjamin F. Armstrong introduces this largely forgotten strategist to a new generation. In an accessible volume that builds on his prior work on Mahan, Armstrong introduces Sims to the reader, and then intersperses commentary with original writing from Sims for the rest of the book. This smart choice not only gives readers context to understand Sims’ ideas in their own time, along with potential applications today, but also lets Sims speak for himself. Armstrong’s commentary throughout the book is striking, well-written, and offers many relevant insights into critical issues facing the U.S. military today. This book is highly recommended not just for those interested in naval strategy, but those interested in military strategy, military innovation, and civil-military relations more broadly.”―WarOnTheRocks.com
From the Back Cover
“Our objective must not be ‘safety first’ in the sense of adherence to already tested practices and implements, but safety first in being the first to recognize, the first to experiment with, and the first to adopt improvements of distinct military value.”―William S. Sims
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II. Overshadowed by the memory of the World War II generation of strategic admirals, like Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance, he receives little attention from historians or professional naval officers. Despite the fact that he won a Pulitzer Prize for history and had a dramatic impact on the U.S. Navy, Sims’ books and articles are often overlooked.
This book is a collection of Admiral Sims’ written work, and it investigates his relevance in addressing the questions facing today’s military personnel and policymakers. Armstrong’s introductions and analysis of these essays links them directly to the issues of innovation, professional education, and leadership that are as important at the start of this century as they were at the start of the last.
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I'm an Air Force officer, so I honestly did not have a full handle on some of the more specific Navy references in Sims' essays. However, there was nothing too complex that prevented me from taking away incredible innovation lessons regardless of branch of service and the author takes great care to weave Sims' writings into a coherent narrative by explaining the context of Sims' works. Prior to each essay, Armstrong sets the stage for the Sims' work while comparing/contrasting it to problems that military (and in some cases, civilian) leaders encounter today.
Armstrong has carefully chosen six pieces by Sims that cover the following topics:
- Professional Debate and Military Innovation
- A Proper Military Mindset
- Preparing for Command and Preparing for War
- The Forces of the Status Quo
- The Peace Dividend and the Professional
- A Century-Old Promotion System
To wrap up the book, the author includes an article from one of Sims' subordinates that nicely summarizes Sims' accomplishments as an innovator, leader, and iconoclast in the US Navy.
One of my favorite quotes from Admiral Sims, among a large number that highlighted in my Kindle version, was this one that underscored the importance of taking risks as a military innovator:
“Our objective must not be ‘safety first’ in the sense of adherence to already tested practices and implements, but safety first in being the first to recognize, the first to experiment with, and the first to adopt improvements of distinct military value.”