Keith Cowing

Keith Cowing

Product guy. Entrepreneur.
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7 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Navy SEALs

July 14, 2010

I have a fascination with Navy SEALs (not because I have the physical prowess to be one, but because I respect their discipline, tenacity, and elite performance). I listened to two audiobooks recently about SEALs (Combat Swimmer, and Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALs) and realized that entrepreneurs can learn a lot from them. SEALs travel in small packs, but are tremendously effective and can unleash fury on groups 10 times their size. Here are 7 lessons entrepreneurs can learn from Navy SEALs.

1. Take Decisive Action Build your company so that you can move quickly, regardless of the situation. You won’t have perfect information. You won’t make perfect decisions. But you can’t afford to delay and ponder. Being decisive and nailing the execution will make you effective in the long run.

2. Fear Nothing Life is full of danger. You can spend your time worrying or you can build a team, plan an attack, and go to battle. SEALs volunteer for missions few people would face. But that’s not because they’re reckless. It’s because they train constantly and know their team can handle it. Put together a solid team, a sensible plan, and work your ass off and you can beat the odds.

3. Seek Excellence, not Fame How many athletes can you name? How many politicians? How many CEO’s? Probably quite a few. How about Navy SEALs? Not so many. They devote everything to mission success, but don’t go looking for headlines. Entrepreneurs should do the same. Build a great product, a great company, and a great culture. Do these things and press will come, but headlines should be a side effect and not the goal.

4. Lock and Load “Lock and Load” literally means preparing your weapon, but also represents a state of mind. SEALs don’t know when they will be called on, but are ready to perform at a moment’s notice. As an entrepreneur, opportunities will come in weird situations and you won’t have advanced notice. So be prepared to give your elevator pitch or launch an immediate demo. A 30 second chance encounter can change your life, but only if you’re locked and loaded.

5. Leave no Man Behind Teamwork is everything. But that doesn’t end at holding meetings and dividing tasks. You should be maniacal about defending your team. Cohesive teams are forged over months and years of going to war together. Showing loyalty to your team is one of the most powerful messages in business. Missions can fail. Features can fail. Products can fail. But your loyalty should never fail. Ever.

6. Plan Your Mission, but Prepare to Pivot SEALs plan carefully. They prepare for dozens of scenarios and pay attention to every detail. Yet unknowns will always happen. Their teams are agile, handle surprises, and make adjustments on the fly. Entrepreneurs need to prepare diligently. But it’s the combination of preparation and agility that turns a good team into a great company.

7. Make Peace with Constant Chaos You don’t know where the land mines are. You don’t know what announcements will be released tomorrow. Your life is full of legal issues, product issues, service issues, sales issues, financing issues, recruiting issues, travel issues, etc. There are always 1,000 things to do and only time for 100. Yet that will never change. So you need to make peace with the idea of being around constant chaos. Break down your mission into components, define them, plan them, execute on them, and train yourself to be calm under fire. The ability to sit amidst chaos yet focus on the task at hand and execute well is the key to running a high-growth venture (and is SOP for a SEAL mission).

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