In 1939, as the shadow of war was falling across Europe, the British War Office started up an unconventional department with a staff of one commissioned and one non-commissioned officer charged with the task of devising special weapons for irregular warfare, according to Stuart Macrae in his book Winston Churchill’s Toyshop: The Inside Story of Military Intelligence. The book tells the story of how the department, known as MD1 managed to work around the military bureaucracy to invent and produce new weapons very rapidly.
The author was the editor of a periodical called Armchair Science when he was contacted by Major Millis Jefferis seeking information on powerful magnets. This led to collaboration on a secret project to produce a magnetic mine, and the author was thereafter recruited into MD1 as second-in-command to Jefferis. Many amusing adventures followed as the author rapidly expanded MD1 so that it could manufacture in large quantities the weapons it created, all the while fighting against the bureaucracy which wanted the irregular department to be absorbed into the Ministry of Supply.
While the book tells a compelling story, it also illuminates the struggles typically encountered by a department tasked with innovation within the context of a larger conservative organisation. Most people are not good at imagining a different future, so the innovator, who can see how new products can lead to greatly improved results, will always struggle to convince non-innovators to allocate the resources necessary for the innovations to succeed, and successful innovators always need to find ways of circumventing normal organisational processes.