Makarios Consulting Blog

What’s Your Railgun?

Businesses can be so wedded to old ideas that they ignore transformative innovations. “Not Invented Here” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” are just two of the excuses given to avoid shaking things up. If it takes a bomb to light a fire under your management team, maybe it’s time to roll out the big guns and learn what artillery can teach us about obsolescence.

When we think of artillery many of us think about the guns we’ve seen in World War 2 movies – wheeled howitzers manned by small, shirtless crews or the blazing turrets of Iowa-class battleships that could fire a 16-inch shell some 20 miles. While powerful and frightening if you’re on the receiving end of it, artillery isn’t very sexy. Most of us don’t give the technology of artillery much thought.

In the past decade the US military has funded the development of a new weapon called a railgun. Railguns apply tremendous energy to a set of electromagnetically-charged rails to send a non-explosive projectile a distance of 50 to 100 miles at speeds exceeding Mach 7. Since anything traveling that fast will obliterate its target, the projectile doesn’t need to explode on impact (that would be overkill). So gunpowder, and all its associated dangers, becomes obsolete.

The military hopes to use railgun weapons on land, on ships, and in space. But the technology has other applications. One that intrigues me is a railgun to launch planes from aircraft carriers, replacing the steam catapults that have been used for almost 100 years. (Article can be found at H/t: Slashdot via Instapundit. The comments are especially interesting.) Apparently railguns can be dialed down to launch unmanned drones, too.

Current catapult systems require a source of high-pressure steam, lots of space, scads of sailors, and constant maintenance; among other drawbacks, they lose efficiency in frigid weather. A plane-launching railgun or Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EALS in Navy-speak) avoids or eliminates those problems, making a whole lot of economic sense.

The railgun is a game changer. As the automobile put buggy whip manufacturers out of business, the railgun will transform weapon systems and logistics in the future. And that got me thinking: Most businesses employ 19th century know-how and 20th century technology – what if a business railgun came along to upend how we work?

In 2011, ask yourself
• Is there software I could implement to save me time and expense?
• Are there new disciplines I could apply to streamline my processes and gain traction?
• Have I missed the boat by clinging to outdated technologies and methodologies?
• Is my team stuck in a rut without knowing it?

The answers may be “Yes” to each of these. As a New Year’s resolution, look around for the railgun that will transform your business, then aim, ready, fire.

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