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patch-500x500A huge part of the key to success in a Special Forces mission is the planning. I’ve found applying aspects of this planning process in the civilian world has aided me greatly in building a successful writing career, a seven-figure publishing company, and a consulting and speaking business (which uses Special Forces tactics and techniques in other fields).

Here are five tools we used, which you can also:

  1. Conduct an area study. We spent a considerable amount of time researching the environment and locale in which we would be operating. We had an extensive checklist of items to consider, from the obvious like terrain and enemy forces, to the less obvious, such as flora and fauna, power grids, medical issues, infrastructure, etc. Going into a place blind is a formula for disaster. Have an area study checklist for your area of operations.
  2. We went into ‘isolation’. Once we were handed a mission packet, we were locked up in a secure compound. This was not only for security reasons, but also to allow us to focus with no distractions. While a 24/7 isolation might be extreme in the civilian world, it is possible to conduct a form of isolation. When in the key planning stages, do you limit outside distractors? As a writer, I sometimes rent an apartment or house in a different locale with no television, cable, internet or phone. It allows me to focus completely on the writing.
  3. Make contingency plans. What can go wrong, will go wrong. I was a bit taken aback reading Lone Survivor and the lack of mission planning and contingency planning that was conducted before that operation. One thing we always factored in was that we were going to be found by the indigenous personnel no matter where in the world we went. In isolation we “war-gamed” as many possibilities as we could imagine. And then planned for them. Even before isolation, we had a team Standing Operating Procedure that laid out many of our contingencies for stock situations. (More on SOPs in another post). Remember, it’s too late to plan for Murphy to visit, when he’s amongst you.
  4. Rehearse. Then rehearse some more. And then more. And make sure everyone is cross-trained so that if only one member of the A-Team makes it to the target, then he can achieve the mission. There is no substitute for rehearsal. Think of sport’s teams: they call rehearsal ‘practice.’ And make sure your rehearsals are as realistic as possible. There were times our training was more dangerous than the actual mission. But there is no substitute for rehearsal. And prioritize your rehearsals based on time available. We always started with ‘actions on the objective’, which was the mission and then worked backward from that.
  5. hConduct a briefback. This is critical and a valuable tool that can be used in any environment prior to launching on a mission. After finishing your plan to do something, you should conduct a briefback. A briefback is an effective tool a leader can use to make sure subordinates have developed a plan that will accomplish the goals and whether adequate support has been allocated. The briefback is a way of insuring that everyone understands the mission and all key parties such as operational, logistics, communications, transport, etc. are on the same sheet of music. The briefback also assigns responsibilities. When the FOB (forward operating baser) commander gives the team a go at the end of the briefback he is taking responsibility for the team on this mission. The briefback is attended by the A-Team, the FOB commander, his staff, and any other parties that are connected to the mission. It is limited to those who have a need to know and classified at least at secret level. In essence, though, a briefback can be used in any situation where a group must work together to accomplish a mission to insure that the planning and preparation are well done.

These are just some Special Forces tools that can be modified and used in pretty much any setting and for any mission. For more detail, you can check out Who Dares Wins: Special Operations Strategies for Success, or ask in the comment section.

 

 

(excerpt from It Doesn’t Just Happen:  The Gift of Failure)

THREE

Conduct Area Studies

In Special Forces, prior to deploying to an Area of Operations, we conducted an Area Study of that location. You must conduct an Area Study of your Catastrophe Area of Operations (AO). Your home, your work, and any other locales where you spend a significant amount of time. When taking a trip, you should conduct a travel area study, examining the route you will take, your destination, and your route back.

There are so many cases where a thoughtful Area Study followed up by the appropriate preparations would have saved lives and avoided catastrophe. Prevention is more efficient than avoidance. Preparation is so much better than reacting.

Custer certainly would have benefited from an area study. At the very least, a better reconnaissance would have shown him what he was really up against.

The Donner Party put their lives on the line because of the words of a man who had not done an area study, but wrote as if he had.

Think about it. You live in a tsunami zone. Have you actually driven your evacuation route? How long does it take? Have you figured out the quickest escape route on foot, when an accident caused by terrified people blocks the road or everyone in your neighborhood fleeing on the same route creates a traffic jam? You work on the 90th floor of a skyscraper. Do you ever look around and ask yourself: how do I get out of here if the normal means of egress are blocked?

How close are you to the nearest military base? Nearest police station? Firehouse? Hospital? Even in day-to-day living, do you know where the closest emergency room is? How long it will take to get there? How quickly can an ambulance respond to your location?

You want to examine your environment for a lot of things. What can harm you? What can help you? What can hide you? What are your enabling factors? What are your disabling factors? What effect does your environment have on you? What effect will you have on it? In essence, an Area Study requires you to invest the time and energy on research.

patch-500x500 For an A-Team, we conducted the Area Study in Isolation where we were locked up 24/7 in a secure compound. We’d bring in area experts (CIA agents, State Department personnel, people who’d traveled there, locals, academics, etc.) to tell us about the environment we were heading into. This is a technique I recommend for businesses under my Who Dares Wins program.

Do a HALO study of your environment and organization.

An Area Study must combine with the catastrophe mindset to focus on what can go wrong will go wrong!

It Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure I and II availabe at all platforms via this landing page.

(excerpt from It Doesn’t Just Happen:  The Gift of Failure)

ONE

Have A Preparation Mindset

The key is to accept that shit doesn’t just happen. As you now know, most catastrophes are the result of cascade events. The origins of future catastrophes lie in our past and in our present.

When my A-Team traveled, my engineers would always be looking at things they saw with a different perspective than most people. When they saw a bridge, they were mentally calculating how to blow it up. When they saw a stream, they were thinking how to dam it and provide a water supply to villagers. My weapons men would look at terrain for fields of fire for direct and targeting points for indirect fire weapons. To be a survivor, you have to look at your environment in terms of what you can use and what can be a threat, which requires you to assume a different mindset for a while.

The best way to prevent a catastrophe is to plan for it. If engineers at NASA had not planned for the unlikely ‘lifeboat’ possibility, the crew of Apollo 13 would have never made it back.

TWO

Focus

Pay attention, both to immediate events and surroundings, and the past. We generally think in one of two different ways: a big picture thinker or a detail thinker.

Both types are needed. Understand yourself and those in your organization.

A big picture thinker can see patterns. This person can put the pieces together in order to see trends that could lead to catastrophe.

A big picture thinker would see the flow of history regarding bubbles and have known the housing bubble was inevitable.

Unfortunately, a big picture thinker might miss the key details that make up those trends.

challengerA big picture thinker might have passed over that single sentence in the book about the Hastings Cutoff and focused on the fact the California Trail was the way people had successfully been journeying to California.

Binoculars locked up on a huge ship like the Titanic is a pretty small detail at the time, but in retrospect, that single event looms large.

And a detail thinker might miss how each piece is part of a larger tapestry.

For the New London Schoolhouse, some people certainly noted the ill students, but might not have been able to connect that with leaking gas.

For both types, they have to focus hard on the area they are lacking.

I’m a big picture thinker. So I’ve had to work very hard to focus on details. I’ve had to learn not to get upset when a detail is pointed out to me that I haven’t noticed. In fact, I’ve had to learn to focus on what I call an anger indicator. I always advise people that when they get angry, it’s usually because they’re hearing or seeing or experiencing a truth they don’t want to.

When I get angry, I always try to focus on what exactly it is that is making me upset and in doing so I can often uncover key truths. The more an organization fights something, the more likely that something is going to be part of a cascade event.

More on this in Who Dares Wins: Special Operations Strategies for Success.

Shit Doesn’t Just Happen I and II available at all platforms via this landing page.

Time Patrol: Ides of March

15 March 2016

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