From Stealth to Struggle: Adapting in an Era of Technological Erosion

Nathan A. Cunningham
3 min readJul 6, 2023

Advantages erode. The erosion is slow. But eventually the advantage is just gone and something else has completely replaced it.

Submarine duty in the US Navy is known as “silent service” because of the quiet nature of the duties aboard a sub. Stealth, the ability to run silent and go unnoticed in the vastness of the ocean, is a strategic and tactical strength of submarines. This was popularized by “Run Silent, Run Deep” or “The Hunt for Red October” — if you’ve seen it, who can forget Sean Connery saying “One ping only”?

But this advantage of stealth is being eroded by technology.

Sound Familiar?

This dilemma provides an interesting analogy for any industry or profession or even entrenched societal attitude. The challenges or nightmares facing the submarine “industry” apply broadly and bear contemplation for the nature of work and business itself. Does this sound familiar or relevant to where you sit? Emphasis (bold) mine.

That leaves the silent service-where, precisely? Struggling to stay abreast of the times, one suspects.

That’s how beneficiaries of a congenial status quo commonly respond when change shakes their world. Paradigm shifts are agony for entrenched cultures.

Stakeholders in the ancient regime resist believing that shifting circumstances have rendered old ways partly or wholly moot. Oftentimes they fight against unorthodox methods that are better fitted to the times. Progress is fitful and uncertain.

Strategic innovation tends to lag behind events.

The closing paragraph of the article was particularly compelling and helps me think about other domains better. Below, I replaced the domain specific terms with “<fill in blank>” for effect.

In short, <fill in blank> will no longer be as exceptional as before. They’ll have to learn new habits. They’ll be more like <fill in blank>, forced to train for <fill in blank> and <fill in blank> for survival rather than trusting <fill in blank>. … In short, not just a technological but a cultural revolution is afoot.

Embrace it.

And embrace it we must!

Thankfully, there are proven and studied strategies out there for dealing with changes of this magnitude.

John Kotter and Clayton Christensen have written helpfully on this and “Leading Change” by Kotter is a great place to start. Kotter presents an 8 phase overlapping framework for leading through the choppy waters of change.

The Innovators Dilemma” by Christensen is another must read, and was my initial exposure to disruptive change and innovation. As an example, Christensen highlights that assets, processes, and values all need to change to effectively navigate the shift. This gives leaders at any level of an organization the beginnings of a framework to start understanding and changing their domains.

Perhaps the most current application of this is the recent advances in AI to knowledge workers and software engineers in particular. Software is no longer just eating the world, but now there is “New AI Software That’s Eating the Software Industry” itself as a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) headline put it recently. Sidenote: If you’re in Software, how are you adapting?

Why is this important?

When you inform yourself and understand more of the macro situation effecting your work life, its a much more like like being on a submarine than the nightmare of being tossed to and fro in the rough and predictable seas up on the surface. I’ve learned this the hard way, I hope this note will help you on your voyage.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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