In the new book The Art of Risk, journalist Kayt Sukel talks to several people who have mastered their particular strategy to success. One of the most enlightening interviews is with Army Special Forces' Mark Walters. At the time the book was written, Walters had served nearly two decades. We're talking years of highly-intense combat and stressful, unpredictable situations, not unlike a Navy SEAL.
Sukel has a great conversation with Walters, but the clincher is when she asks the first thing he thought of when he actually got shot:
"Do I need to apply a tourniquet?" he says immediately.
"Really?" I'd think that some kind of expletive might be the first reaction. Or a pathetic whimper. Either one.
He confirms that was exactly what he was thinking when a bullet connected.
"That's when it all comes down to training," Walters says. "It doesn't matter what else is going on. You know what to do. I've had tons and tons of medical training, so if I'm bleeding, I just do what I can to stop the bleeding. I know that's what I'm supposed to do. You do that and you get back to the mission."
There is an amazing amount of business lessons here and, with respect to Walters, none of them have to do with bravery. The big three are about preparation.
Study your stuff: As Walters says, he spent tons of time getting medical training. This is important, as he wasn't studying to be a doctor - it would have been just as easy for him to blow off his studies and concentrate on the cooler aspects of his military career.
It is reminiscent of new entrepreneurs who want to create a business, but haven't checked out the competition, don't know the landscape and aren't sure if the public needs the product or service. Between research and practice, you should have 90% of your work done by the time you actually start your business. Launching is the easy part.
Bottom line: Put in the work before you reach the battlefield, not after you are on it
Take small experiences seriously: Bullets mean life or death, but Walters spent a significant amount of time tussling with less lethal things to ultimately prepare him for deadly fire.
Whatever your business situation, you have likely had less risky endeavors that could have prepared you for this moment. In my case, I launched a small app called So Quotable to a cult following, and while it didn't top any App Store lists, the business, technological and strategic lessons helped me launch a second app, Cuddlr. The knowledge from the first go-round helped turn Cuddlr into a hit, enough to get it acquired less than a year after launch.
Bottom line: Learn important lessons when the stakes are low
Trust your training: Once you are in the proverbial field, it is really easy to rely on your senses, your brain or even your fear to see you through. Don't. The chaos of your battlefield is only mitigated by your training.
Walters' training was the Army, but lessons can also come from a mentor, a book or a speech. It is a matter of taking an external idea or structure and understanding it to the point where it feels like instinct. It is why writers' write every day, VCs always listen to new ideas and military put in time on the firing range.
Bottom line: The sharpest instincts come from practice, work and observation