Case Study #2: Entrepreneurship: The Purest form of Unconventional Warfare

In the sweltering heat of summer at the John Wayne School for Wayward Boys, sitting through endless, barely survivable PowerPoint presentations on Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield “IPB” and the Military Decision Making Process “MDMP” as applied by Special Forces “SF” to the conduct of Unconventional Warfare “UW”, I could not help but connect this to the training I had previously received on the startup battlefield. This is, I guess, because we cannot help but process everything through the many filters we develop in the course of our personal and early professional lives, regardless what one may go on to accomplish after, engineers see things mechanistically, soldiers see things geopolitically, so it should not come as a surprise I found correlations between Green Beret training and my previous life as techpreneur and later investor. Nor should it be a surprise I saw military operations as startup investments, with the same resource limitations, complicated and asset destruction riddled environment, with the same absolute requirement, a real Return on Investment “ROI”.

However, this IPB, MDMP, UW – Entrepreneurial investing correlation was something more. This struck me very early on, very clearly and has only increased in certainty in the years of SF and investment practice since. This is due to the fact, though I had not even thought about UW at the time, quite unknowingly, I had for the ten years or more before successfully completing SF Assessment and Selection been conducting UW. Further, every time I dedicated up to 60 – 90 days or more working on a detailed business model with corresponding financials for one of my startups, or later reviewing hundreds a month for the senior partners, I had unknowingly been using MDMP by another term, business and financial planning. And the endless market, business and financial research which had to be sustained at great personal cost in time and effort, generally in my own limited personal time, in order to ensure an ROI, was exactly IPB by another name.

For those who’ve not had the opportunity to serve in SF some definitions may be in order. To be clear, Unconventional Warfare, “…consists of activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an occupying power or government by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area.” While the Military Decision Making Process, “…is a United States Army seven-step process for military decision making in both tactical and garrison environments.” And IPB is, “…a systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and environment in a specific geographic area. It is designed to support staff estimates and military decision making. Applying the IPB process helps the commander selectively apply and maximize his combat power at critical points in time and space on the battlefield…” All of which every single member of The Regiment is trained in through at least 18 months in the Q Course, the many courses attended post Q. And more importantly, moving beyond academics and training, every single SF member employs these skills and training in the real world, and often repetitively, like a serial entrepreneur, quite often with friends and colleagues lives on the line.

Even the most junior Tabbed guy, regardless his age, Military Occupational Specialty or background is highly trained to develop a detailed map of the enemy and friendly situation and that of the physical battlefield itself, which knowledge is used to drive the highly detailed planning of the 5 paragraph Operations Order, the business plan of the Army and uniquely of Special Forces. Of course the context and purpose of this training in SF is not business or finance but the conduct of Irregular Warfare “IW” under which UW falls. Though it is not completely true SF is devoid of business and financial thinking, as, in addition to our core competency of UW, we’ve been tasked with the Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic or DIME mission globally.

So where are the similarities between IPB, MDMP and the conduct of UW and the startup battlespace? Required in all operations conducted by SF Regiment members, whether conducting UW, Foreign Internal Defense, Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Proliferation, Psychological Operations or Information Operations, are the critical skills of:

  • Highly detailed situational awareness – know in depth your enemy, your friendlies, the movements within and across the battlespace, as well as available resources and allies, and most critically your team’s abilities before ever taking on a task
  • Needs assessment – early identify the many Risk and Uncertainty factors and constraints which limit your ability to succeed and identify necessary resources and milestones critical to success
  • Talent identification, development and leadership – early recognize talent, foster and shape that talent through hands-on, active teaching, mentoring and leadership and enable that talent to go on to leadership, to train 100 others to the same level of proficiency
  • Execution and review – develop self-sufficient and sustainable assets, maintain and apply these assets, all the while conducting after action reviews in order to make necessary corrections rapidly as dictated by current reality not preconceived notions, and most critical of all,
  • Successfully exit – realize the required, or in catastrophic environments, the maximal possible, ROI and move immediately to planning for and conducting of follow-on operations, investments.

And just like the startup world, all with minimal personnel, resources or guidance and often greatly outnumbered and in a denied area, otherwise known as hostile territory or the marketplace. Anyone who has been an entrepreneur or investor in same will tell you these are exactly the skills required in the startup environment of the entrepreneur and their investors, but which are far too often absent in startup teams which have not at least one startup success or failure behind them.

Identifying the training and direct experience derived skills of the SF Operator as critical to Silicon Valley and its analogs elsewhere is not a stretch of the imagination, as all of the SF mission types and operational requirements can be mapped directly to the complex and rapidly changing startup environment. An environment, just like a battlespace, which must be understood and mastered by the entrepreneur, individual team leaders and those who partner with and back them.

So what, we should recruit for SF more aggressively from the startup world, among seasoned entrepreneurs? Yes, actually. Though most entrepreneurs are far too occupied planning for or building their next company to take a minimum of two years, more realistically four to six years or more out, to become and serve as a Green Beret, despite the many advantages the entrepreneur would take from SF training and service. Despite this, myself and a small number of others I have met during my brief time with the Regiment have done just this. Should SF dig into the entrepreneurial and entrepreneur investor world to find best business practices to augment and improve SF doctrine and expand operational capacity, particularly ROI concepts and practices? Absolutely, though unlikely due to the culture of what increasingly seems to becoming a doctrine bound and driven Regiment and corresponding battlespace. More probable and beneficial would be for the entrepreneurial world, and more precisely, those who invest in such high-Risk and Uncertainty environments, to look to Special Forces for a deep body of talent, loyal, and heavily trained and battlefield and battlespace experienced in exactly the skill-sets of asset creation, team building and leadership and never quit, constantly innovate mind-set at the core of every Green Beret.

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