Military intelligence – the most commonly offered oxymoron. But is it really an oxymoron? Although there are things that the military, like any large bureaucracy, does that could only be classified as, well, stupid, the people in our military are not. There are those with an ideological bent against anything military that love the stereotype of the mindless soldier who can only take orders and never think for themselves (a favorite staple in most hollywood flicks), but our military today is better trained and more carefully selected than ever before in history. The days of “join the Navy or go to jail” are long gone. Many enlisted personnel have college degrees (or have joined to earn the money to get one) and many senior enlisted and officers have both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Our senior leaders, in addition to 20+ years of experience in their field, have often received one or more post graduate degrees from the military postgraduate schools or Ivy league schools as part of their educational career path.
I had the honor of speaking at an event last week called “Battlefields and Boardrooms”. It was formed by two organizations, Gen Next and Disruptive Thinkers. Gen Next is a group that describes its members as “accomplished individuals–executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, authors and diplomats–who represent a spectrum of industries, such as technology, energy, fashion, finance, entertainment, hospitality, real estate, and more.”
Huh. Pretty big words and lofty ideas for military folks with more brawns than brain…or maybe the Hollywood stereotypes are not only outdated but just plain wrong.
I was very impressed with the people that I had the opportunity to meet. They were smart, creative, and enjoying the results of employing those skills in ways that gave them validation and success. The concept behind Battlefields and Boardrooms is to pair forward (“disruptive”) thinking military personnel with successful entrepreneurs and successful business folk so that both parties can learn from the other. I think this is brilliant. As anyone who has read more than a couple of my blogs has inferred, I believe that there are critical skills that military personnel can bring to corporations that are not found as frequently, nor honed as well, as they are in the military. Leadership and teamwork are two of the traits that military personnel have developed and can bring to corporations that are just not selected and trained for as intensely in the corporate world.
On the other hand, the ability to look at an industry and find the new product that turns college kids into billionaires is not the type of skill that is typically selected for or heightened in the military, where rigorous discipline can make the difference between life and death. Does this mean it has no place in the military? Not at all. There was an experiment several years ago where business folks were put against junior military officers in computer based wargames. The business folk, amazingly, had a much higher “win” rate in these wargames once the rules were explained to them. Although there are likely several reasons for this, and the sampling size might not qualify this as a statistically significant result, I would offer that if you approach a game with the idea of how to work around the rules of the game in increase your odds of winning while your opponents are simply following the rules, your chances of winning will dramatically improve. This is not a new concept in warfare, Sun Tzu alluded to changing the battllefield so that the enemy is now fighting your game instead of his in “The Art of War.” The concept applies equally well to a couple of software developers cutting out the middle men by shipping their cutting edge first person shooter video game directly to the consumer (“Doom“) as it does to taking a land war and turning it into a guerilla war and destroying an enemy who has far superior numbers and weapons by forcing them to play your game. The trick is to look at a business opportunity or battlefield, with the idea of how the rules of the game can be changed in one’s favor to create an insurmountable advantage. The person who can do that will succeed, more likely than not, in any situation.
I have always used the game analogy to life in a lot of instances when mentoring others- my example being that when you know and understand the rules of the game, you can play the game to win. The same should apply to life and business. So when I see another creative and successful mind state “how to work around the rules of the game in increase your odds of winning while your opponents are simply following the rules, your chances of winning will dramatically improve”, I smile.
Simply following a process to the letter of the process is much like praising someone who worked hard for 10 hours- when it is not the duration of the work effort, but the product of their efforts that should be praised. Who cares how long so and so worked, what I care about is the quality of the product and whether they needed 10 hours to produce a product that should only have taken less. To me that is the same as following a process and playing by the rules, versus playing to win, in accordance with the rules.
I earned my CAR in the Marine Corps, in the infantry. Everyone loves to call us grunts gumballs, butt plates, etc… the funny thing is, most of us are highly intelligent- we chose the infantry on purpose for the adventure, the honor, the pride that comes from the service. I have to admit though, the area of business that I have had to be most careful of, is the “Hey Diddle Diddle Right Up the Middle” ambush left and we charge approach to dealing with business and business adversaries. There was a greening period where that was my de facto response, with study and practice the Box Recon is a more appealing approach to business, just as engaging on the terms of my choosing, very similar in concept to setting the battleground before the battle is fought.
Hi Robert, Funny you should bring up that specific example of having to refine the “Make any decision and adapt later” leadership style that is both integral to, and I would argue necessary for, the combat arms. When the bullets start flying, staying in one place and waiting to get hit while thinking of your next move is clearly not conducive to survival.
In our company we have a number of military folks, many from the combat arms, and we’ve had to adjust this style over the years to one of “Do we need to make a decision right now?” We often use exactly this phrase when in a meeting if it appears that we’re rushing to a decision that doesn’t need to be made that second, and which might be a different decision once more data is processed and more perspectives are discussed.