Special Forces, Entrepreneurship: Only the Practical Matters

Few weeks ago, in Never Quit!, I discussed Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours Outlier theory, the concept it takes 5 years of research and diligent effort to master a domain. This pursuit however, mastery of a domain, is never a straight or obvious path regardless whether one possesses natural talent, is highly intelligent and highly motivated or any combination of the three. To attain this level of mastery, to complete the years of work necessary one has to Never Quit along the way.

This was followed with Accidental Leadership, the idea real leadership is an accidental thing, an emergent property, a leader being one who is pursuing at least their first 10,000-hour block of study, so heavily focused on perfecting their art when they look up they are surprised to find others following. Of course, this requires a clearly identified target, a difficult but obtainable objective which when obtained provides the individual with confidence they have attained at least 1st degree master level.

While it is absolutely true a leader is one who set themselves the task of mastering a domain and who has never quit, despite every chance to do so, there is yet a third component essential to attaining true mastery and being recognized as an influential leader. This all essential third component seems to be something we less and less emphasize outside engineering and medicine where precision and exact detail are still obviously critical to prevent failure. Outside these domains this third component seems to be increasingly shunned by modern society, exactly when it is needed most. 

This third component true mastery is impossible without, allowing for attainment of 1st through 10th degree black belt if you will, and leadership capacity, results in the ability to reduce all that vastly complex knowledge and understanding attained through the pursuit of mastery to very simple statements anyone can quickly and easily understand. 

The father of nuclear physics and 1908 Nobel Prize winner, Earnest Rutherford once stated the above. There is incredible wisdom in this statement. Even if the audience does not fully understand all the implications of the statement, a simple statement, allows the listener to connect with the truth of it and find what they need to progress along their own path to mastery or simply to accomplish the current task or effort. This ability to state incredibly complex information is not enough however. Just take Einstein for example. How many truly understand E=MC², no matter how elegant and simple a statement it is?

In Critical Importance of the Alpha, I discuss influence-based leadership, how Alphas – leaders – are not A-types (chest pounding Betas), forcing the group to fulfill the Alphas desires. Instead, these true leaders lead by influence rather than command or force, and for collective rather than personal gain. While this is true, it is only part of what makes Alphas such influential leaders. The second part of Alpha leadership, the third component in seeking mastery, is the Alpha only states what is practical and in ways the listener can rapidly understand and use, injecting only what is immediately, obviously required, and nothing more and only exactly when required.

Interestingly, while higher-order practical guidance requires at least some level of mastery, providing practical guidance and leadership is possible for anyone seeking mastery and does not require the seeker to have already attained the level of master. As long as an individual is able to state in simple terms readily understandable by the audience, what is practical at the moment, they are on their path to mastery and are in fact, leading. This implies practicality, possession of a practical mind, is essential to leadership and is a prerequisite for the pursuit of mastery itself. 

This makes a lot of sense having been a startup founder and later having watched the selection processes in startup investing and Special Operations, having direct experience seeing those who have and who have not gone on to success. Without fail the successful ones were, each and every one, practical thinkers who communicated what was needed in very simple terms. And they had to be because they were in professions where failure is immediate and obvious and resulted in asset destruction, loss of personal wealth and in the extreme, the wrong people getting killed.

Reality is, this requirement for practicality in all things, the ability to directly communicate and apply complex knowledge simply, is not something can wait for final 10th degree mastery, or even 1st degree mastery. It is instead a requirement to obtain those levels. Fortunately, regardless one’s domain or career path, it doesn’t have to wait. Any serious student of any domain, anyone seeking mastery, will figure out quite early this practicality requirement is the lead condition and singular prerequisite and that it can be developed by virtually anyone.

This practical mind is something every one of us should cultivate every day. It is very simple really. In Special Operations and Startups alike, there is a simple test we use for everything we do and think. If it isn’t immediately practical, meaning it does not address an immediate need of the group and mission and set the individual team member, group or organization up for immediate or near-term future success, then it isn’t practical. Also, no matter how important and correct it may be, even if you have the exact right answer that will save us all, if it isn’t stated simply, if the audience cannot quickly understand and apply, it isn’t practical.

And this brings us back to those who never quit in the pursuit of mastery of their domain and who have looked up and been surprised they are recognized as an Alpha, recognized for their leadership. These individuals are always practical. Doesn’t matter if they see thousands of layers of detail in a given situation, if they could talk for hours on the subject. Doesn’t matter if they want something to be different than what is and can be, what they are feeling or desire. True leaders only communicate what addresses the immediate or near-future need of the individual, group or organization being addressed, and in very simple statements, influencing not forcing, providing only the very minimum needed for understanding. 

E.M. Burlingame: Founder Emerio Group and the Honos Foundation | Actively engaged, leveraging diverse experience and skills developed during more than 30 years in technology, entrepreneurship, startup investing and Special Operations to identify and develop the next generation of startup leaders globally.

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