Believe it or not, there are lessons learned in special operations directly applicable to the outside world. No, not the “pinky death touch” to use on your neighbor, but rather the timeless principles of performance that define what “right” looks like.
Similar to the perpetuity of vision that Jim Collins highlighted in his famous article, Building Your Company’s Vision, the same principles of interminability apply towards success -- consistency, hard work and resilience.
What enables a win for the SEAL or Delta operator is the same for the startup entrepreneur (OK, pretty close). Here are 10 lessons learned from the SEAL teams and what they mean for your startup:
1. Sweat the small stuff. Paying attention to detail is the single greatest difference between ordinary and extraordinary results. All the little things may eventually turn into large catastrophes if not managed properly -- just think of the faulty O-ring that contributed to the Space Shuttle Challenger’s disaster.
2. When in doubt, KISS. There’s an innate human desire to prove smarts. Don’t. Keeping things “simple stupid” minimizes the chances for failure or hiccups to occur. Consider Google’s homepage. The number one search engine could create something incredibly elaborate, but they settle for simplicity because it’s just easier to use and performs just as well.
3. Change your route. In the world of human intelligence (think James Bond), if you use the same route over and over you create predictability, which means it’s easier for bad guys to attack. Marketing is no different. Steve Jobs, for example, embraced as many marketing streams as possible to solicit as many audiences as possible. The more avenues you create, the more opportunities (i.e. escape routes) become available.
4. Adapt for purpose. No two targets I went for were ever the same, just as every market is different. What works for one customer base may require a slight tweak in another. Make the changes you need to be your best.
5. Build your legacy. A legacy is a byproduct of decisions and actions that leaves a trail of inspiration for others to espouse. The career train keeps moving once you get off but your reputation lasts forever. This applies not just to individuals but also to teams. We had a command historian document all the “cool” things that happened over each deployment so that one day we can look back on the imprint on history we created -- as a team.
6. Spike the market. Throughout history, there exists prolonged periods of normalcy occasionally punctuated by drastic changes that create new trends (i.e. Napster, Wikipedia, Apple). Once the dust settles, this “spike” flattens out and becomes the new standard for others to follow. This is the theory of punctuated equilibrium, and it is what allows for people, teams and organizations to sustain superior performance -- by always raising the bar and “spiking” the competition.
7. Decentralize. To maximize the potential of a team, it’s critical to push information downward. People at the most effective level are then free to make decisions. Otherwise, you get bogged down in details at the top and miss the big picture.
8. Work hard, play hard. Startups may be a lot of work, but everyone needs to decompress and blow off steam. If exercise is important to you, do it. If reading cartoons gets you going, go for it. Whatever “it” is, make it part of your day just like everything else.
9. Rehearse. Prior to every mission we chalk talked our roles and responsibilities to insure alignment. Similarly, every meeting or networking event is an opportunity to build your customer base. Have a pitch ready at all times for different situations.
10. Surround yourself with the best. Nobody gets smarter being surrounded by stupid people (there’s a tweet for you!). Abe Lincoln knew this when he created his “team of rivals” -- a cabinet full of diverse yet experienced officials whose conflicting personalities were exactly what generated greater idea flow.
The best thing you can do is start building your own list, and act on it. Role model other entrepreneurs. Keep a black book of leadership practices right next to your other little black book, and seek to build it every day.
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