Monday, October 25, 2010


One of the account managers on my team is a Marine.  He was an officer in the Marines and served in Iraq.  He is fairly new to the technology industry and we often talk about what it takes to be successful and how to go about building his business.  I read -- and, more often, listen to in the car -- many books on business, leadership and sales.  He knew this and shared with me a publication every Marine is familiar with called Warfighting.

As stated in its preface, "Very simply, this publication describes the philosophy which distinguishes the U.S. Marine Corps. The thoughts contained here are not merely guidance for action in combat but a way of thinking."

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am probably the furthest thing from a Marine, so I did not know what to expect from Warfighting.  I tell you what, the Marine way of thinking about warfare is often applicable to the business world and life in general.

Warfighting is a philosophy articulated and, as such, it boils things down to their basest forms so that we may strive for better understanding on a day-to-day basis as complexities abound.  Find below some highlights from the publication that I found enlightening, affirming, or just plain interesting, along with some random thoughts:

Will - "In war the chief incalculable is the human will"

Speed - love this discussion in the book..."...we should take all measures to improve our own speed while degrading our enemies."

The speed or tempo or cadence to how we manage our business can greatly impact our success...Warfighting talks about a pattern developing: fast, slow, fast again. Part of our success is dictated by how much speed we can generate and sustain, as well as how short the breaks between "fast" and "fast again" are...which goes back to Will.

Focus - "recognizing when secondary tasks or unnecessary efforts are taking away from the objective"

Philosophy of command - "First and foremost, in order to generate the tempo of operations we desire and to best cope with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat, command and control must be decentralized."

Autonomy.  People are more effective when they have it.  Check out the link on the right rail of this blog called "What motivates us?" for more on the subject.

As a manager, I strive to create an environment on the team where each person is a "subordinate commander" of his/her own business and must make decisions on his own initiative based on an understanding of my general intent and the intent of Varrow as a whole.

The "mission tactics" each person uses to get there are in large part up to them. I believe a part of my role is to give guidance, share tactics that have worked for me, share tactics that are working for others, but ultimately it is to empower each person on the team to employ his/her own approach to realize success.

Friction - "Friction is the force that resists all action and saps energy. It makes the simple difficult and the difficult seemingly impossible...Friction may be self-induced, caused by such factors as lack of a clearly defined goal, lack of coordination, unclear or complicated plans, complex task organizations or command relationships, or complicated technologies. Whatever form it takes, because war is a human enterprise, friction will always have a psychological as well as a physical impact."

How true.  Are we friction-reducing agents for our customers?  Do we understand our customers well enough to know where the friction lies and how to set about reducing it?  How much friction do we have in our own organization and what can we do to reduce? 

While we should attempt to minimize self-induced friction, the greater requirement is to fight effectively despite the existence of friction. One essential means to overcome friction is the will; we prevail over friction through persistent strength of mind and spirit."

Attrition warfare and Maneuver warfareWarfare by attrition pursues victory through the cumulative destruction of the enemy’s material assets by superior firepower...On the opposite end of the spectrum is warfare by maneuver which stems from a desire to circumvent a problem and attack it from a position of advantage.  Maneuver warfare seeks to shatter the enemy's cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.  

At the risk of sounding too Machievellian, the approach we have taken at Varrow in building the business can be likened to maneuver warfare: we have less firepower than virtually all of the national competitors we go up against every day, but our focus, our speed, and our ability to generate a faster operating tempo than our competition gains us a temporal advantage. 

Of course, the most obvious and less militaristic differentiator is that we are passionate about helping our customers.  We love what we do.

I highly recommend Warfighting.  Thanks Ryan for turning me onto it!  Find here a link to the entire publication.  Read in one sitting if possible:

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