Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


You have to love those disciplined fiends at Amazon.

They just know exactly what books will make a difference to your life.

So when they suggested "Extreme Ownership: How US SEALS Lead And Win," I leaped to see how extreme I had to be in order to never get owned.

I've long believed, like Donald Trump, that extremism can be exciting. Here, then, was a book by retired Navy SEAL commanders Jocko Willink and Leif Babin that would surely offer some tales from the dramatic edges of life.

Helpfully, Amazon offered stimulating extracts for me to get a flavor. After all, SEALS face some of the most difficult and dangerous situations one could imagine, so there had to be some radical hints here.

Having left the service, Willink and Babin created a company called Echelon Front to help businesses prepare for toughness. Or, rather, to offer "unmatched solutions in business and leadership strategies, tested and proven in the US Navy SEAL teams."

I confess to being wary when business is compared to war. Somehow, bellicose vocabulary seems ill-suited to a tortuous, often childish game in which people think suits make them look powerful and intelligent.

Still, I descended on a chapter called "Discipline Equals Freedom." Here, I would surely learn some things that would turn me into a great leader of at least the louche and lazy.

I was not to be disappointed. Here was Willink explaining: "Discipline starts every day when the first alarm clock goes off in the morning."

The first alarm clock? You mean he sets it on snooze and it soon chirps at him again? Not quite.

"I say 'first alarm clock' because I have three, as I was taught by one of the most feared and respected instructors in SEAL training: one electric, one battery powered, one windup. That way, there is no excuse for not getting out of bed, especially with all that rests on that decisive moment," he said.

I worry. Of course, it's important to get up if your chosen call-time is 4.30am, as Willink's is. But if it really takes three alarm clocks to get you out of bed, some might sniff that you're not committed enough.

He, though, explained: "The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the day. The test is not a complex one: when one alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed or do you lie there in comfort and go back to sleep?"

Did I hear you say: "B, mostly"?

This, in Willink's world, makes you a lily-livered weakling of a human, barely worth a job in accounting (my extrapolations, of course).

You're showing weakness, an attitude that will permeate other parts of your life. But what if you've forgotten the set the other two alarms clocks? You're already doomed before you wake up.

For Willink, those SEALS who woke up dramatically early were exceptional, rather than merely good. He writes that they had the most discipline and it showed in every aspect of their behavior.

Indeed, he translates discipline as being "a matter of personal will."

Goodness, though, doesn't it just get into a silly competition when one SEAL sets his three alarms clocks for five minutes before another one?

And aren't these Deliverers of Discipline ever allowed to take a little time off or even go out for a drink or five?

You'll be relieved to hear they are.

Willink said of the great ones that, having got up early: "They worked out every day. They studied tactics and technology. They practiced their craft. Some of them even went out on the town, drank and stayed out till the early hours of the morning. But they still woke up early and maintained discipline at every level."

Willink's logic is that discipline gives you freedom. Getting up early gives you more time to become truly excellent.

You might already have rushed out (to Amazon, I mean) to buy yourself three alarm clocks of different kinds, as well as this book.

But don't many people create (or least try to) their own forms of discipline? Willink's essential message is that he found disciplinary methods that worked for him in the circumstances with which he was faced.

You have to decide whether getting  up early -- or, conversely, getting enough sleep -- makes you more productive than a Volkswagen Diesel.

I know several very -- even extremely -- successful businesspeople who get up at absurd times of the morning.

Equally, I know one or two who believe that sleep, friends, love and even the occasional ribald ridicule and enjoyment are essential to keeping them sane as well as successful.

There again, as the demands of the so-called connected world get ever more stringent and constant, imposing even more disciplines on yourself might simply make you tired -- as some of my most successful friends often seem.

But perhaps there's a discipline to prevent that too: I hear in baseball it's called steroids.