Highly skilled soldiers trekking through the pitch dark of night and a business creating better products and services for customers appear to be completely unrelated. Yet, when we look closer at the aptitudes that special operations forces (SOFs) personnel use to create mission success, we discover an amazing set of competences that can drive and inspire business innovation.
Members of SOFs are extensively trained and deployed worldwide at a moment’s notice. These personnel are deployed in hundreds of countries and perform tasks such as training foreign military forces, conducting reconnaissance on enemy targets, attacking terrorist cells and rescuing downed military aircraft crews. Here are five ways that business innovation teams can learn and capitalize on the planning and operational excellence that SOF teams embody.
1. Hire for character and train the critical skill sets. SOF organizations have a specialized, lengthy and demanding selection process. Candidates are stressed with fatigue, physical challenges, mental challenges and leadership problems all designed to make them reveal their true character. It is only after this has been validated that they are chosen and then begin training. Integrity, unique experiences and diverse backgrounds are what generate true innovation.
2. Deeply understand the needs of your customer. Before SOF teams conduct a mission, they undergo a detailed, specialized and physically isolated planning process, the entire purpose of of which is to deeply understand the needs of the military commander ordering the mission and all the possible options the team can create to accomplish it. Businesses must learn that understanding the customer and their current and future needs are the true bedrocks of innovation.
3. Identify and build success from data and experiments. SOF teams use their own form of data and analytics to support decisions on how to best accomplish a mission. First, they use a collaborative and non-rank hierarchy to evaluate their own skill sets and the skill sets of fellow team members. Next, they rehearse the mission. For SOF teams, rehearsals are experiments that prove or disprove if they can accomplish the mission as planned. Following a rehearsal, SOF teams do extensive reviews of their performance to improve shortcomings and maintain actions and techniques that performed well. Likewise, businesses can use rehearsals, lessons learned sessions and iterations of experiments to test their ideas.
4. Share information and build ideas. SOF team members at every rank share their thoughts candidly about intelligence, operations and contingency plans. They also create extensive idea sets and find different ways to accomplish missions in case timelines, resources and conditions change. How SOF teams share information is an invaluable teaching point for non-military organizations that focus too heavily on position, roles and hierarchy. Information needs to be set free to inspire and guide innovation.
5. Once the plan is decided, everyone is all-in. It is okay for SOF teams disagree during planning, rehearsals and mission preparation. During these stages, it is expected that everyone provide input, suggestions and ideas to improve the outcome of the mission. However, once a mission is decided, the entire team is all-in to make it a success – SOF teams go from suggestion-driven to mission-driven in the space of minutes. Businesses also need lively discussions that allow full input from all team members. Then, when it’s time for mission execution, they must be fully engaged and aligned.