Talent is important. So is intelligence. So is experience.
But when you want to accomplish something truly challenging, what quality matters most?
But don't just take my word for it. Take the word of someone who really knows: Tyler Grey, an Army Ranger who was deployed twice to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq before being badly injured by an explosion in 2005 in Baghdad.
Tyler is now a speaker and consultant... and an instructor on my favorite reality series, The Selection: Special Operations Experiment, which airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. EST on History. (Or you can catch up on the show site.)
The premise is simple: 30 people with no military background undertake an extreme physical and mental challenge. Their instructors are combat veterans from various U.S. Special Operations units including Navy SEALs, Special Forces Green Berets, and Army Rangers. As I've said before, I'd love to try it... and I'd also hate to try it. (After watching tonight's episode, involving a swimming pool, confirms I'd hate to try it.)
Recently I spoke with another instructor, Navy SEAL Ray Care, about perseverance, developing the right mindset, and how the only limits we really have are self-imposed.
This time I had the honor of speaking with Tyler about adaptability, attitude, mental toughness, and how in life there is no finish line.
I've seen the first four episodes of the show, and I was surprised by some of the people who dropped out.
People get surprised a lot. When you go through these courses, people think, "He's huge, so he's going to make it." But in the end it's never the big guys. The big guys always drop out. 16 (participants go by numbers, not names) dropped out after six hours.
With special ops, it's not people who are the absolute best at any one thing but people who are a really good at a number of things.
That means you have to be adaptable, because no one is good at everything.
People tend to think Darwin said, "Only the strong survive." That's not what he said. Darwin said the number one survivability trait is adaptability. Adaptability is what will get you through these selection processes.
Adaptability is the ability to recognize the construct and working mechanisms of system, figure out how it works, adapt to it, and then adapt it to your needs and goals.
That is the number one thing these selection processes look for.
That sounds a lot like the premise of hiring for attitude and then teaching specific skills. I can teach skills, but I can't teach attitude.
Exactly. And that's especially true for special operations forces.
They're special. Those units are created to take on specific missions with a specific set of specific problems... but the group also needs to be able to figure things out on the fly and adapt and to changing conditions and sometimes even the unknown so they can accomplish those missions.
That's also true in business, of course. Who is more valuable: the person you have to provide a detailed road map, or the person you can give the destination and then let them figure out best to get there?
I'm willing to bet that your best employees have great skills... but they're also extremely adaptable.
The problem is everyone thinks it's all physical. In the first episode, it's a mental event. Yeah, you need to be in good shape, but at the end of the day if you talk to spec ops people it's basically you're looking for very fast learners who can adapt and overcome obstacles quickly who happen to be in pretty dang good shape. But the mental attributes are, those are innate, and once you have them you can train them to be in good shape.
In one episode you said, "The numbers always pan out. 80% of people will quit." Do you think people either have "it" or don't?
It really is weird. And it isn't just in the military. Burt (Kuntz, another Selection instructor) and I have led events in the civilian world and you see exactly the same thing. The numbers never change. It's so mathematical it's kind of shocking.
Where I've gotten to is the numbers come down to, ultimately, something like the Olympics. I can train very day for 10 years and I'm never going to be an Olympic pole-vaulter.
So to be an Olympic pole vaulter you have to train, etc, but ultimately there's a part of it that innate. There has to be something inside that gets you there. You can't just make it with training.
It's the same thing with the show. You're talking about an extreme physical and mental endurance event and everyone thinks they can just will themselves through it. When I went through RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program) I assumed I could just will myself through. I was wrong.
There are only so many people that have the motivation and dedication and training as well as that innate something that can get you through a test like this.
And sometimes it is simply physical. Like with #30: he unquestionably had the heart... but he's a small guy and there were physical things he just couldn't do.
When people are struggling... your style of dealing with them would work well on me. You're like my dad. You don't get mad. You seem disappointed.
That's probably because your dad was giving you truth bombs. Truth bombs hurt. Boom. You're destroyed.
It looks like one of your goals is to get to that truth with each person.
Absolutely. That's because we're searching for attitude. Attitude has to come first. Every single challenge is designed to find that attitude. It's a process to find people that have that innate attitude. You find it by putting them through a series of tasks and seeing who is able to adapt.
Just like in a military selection... we will find your weakness. No one will come through saying, "Yeah, they didn't find my weakness." We will find it. We will do something that will bring out your weakness... and that's a very critical moment where innateness is concerned.
It's easy to be confident when you're doing something you're good at. When you have to dig deep is when you're doing something that you do do well, when you're the weakest member of the team. That makes you incredibly uncomfortable, and that's where you either rise up and overcome that discomfort or you let it get the best of you.
You did that with #6 when you said, "Finally we've found something you suck at."
That's a perfect example. He was super strong... but he was horrible at sit-ups. So you tell him how bad he sucks at sit-ups. We'll call you on your weakness and completely attack you on it in any way we can. Bert and I have had people quit simply because pointing out what they're bad at hurt their egos.
My job is to jump inside your head and make you question yourself. All I'm doing is magnifying your own fears, and I do that because that's what I have to do to get to your truth.
Lies don't mean anything. What hurts is the truth. I'm looking for the truth and then I'll call you on that truth. If I tell #6 he's weak, it doesn't mean anything because he's not weak. But when he sucks at sit-ups, and I tell him he sucks at sit-us...that's true, and that's going to hurt.
Now he had to mentally fight back against that and say to himself, "Okay, I do suck at sit-ups. And everyone knows it. So what do I do now?" Some people can't handle it simply because they don't like everyone else knowing that they're bad at something. The thought that other people are thinking poorly of them -- even though they're not -- is enough to make them quit.
The response we're looking for is for people to try harder and overcome.
True strength is recognizing your own weakness. Denying a weakness only magnifies that weakness.
It's interesting because you're trying to get people to quit... but you really don't want them to. Do you get disappointed when people give up?
You absolutely get disappointed.
The misconception is that we don't care. If we didn't care, we wouldn't be there. We really want people to grow and get something valuable out of the process.
So yes, we absolutely get disappointed. Most people say they could have gone farther. When they think they've reached their max, that's when you can really get to them. If they think they're maxed out and I say, "It's going to get worse..." that usually pushes those people over the edge. But if you had just held on, had just kept going... you would have made it.
That being said, it's a Catch-22. You generally learn more from failure. If someone leaves, that failure lets them take away a lesson. If you have any gas in the tank at the end, that's your fault for not pushing yourself hard enough. I can lead you to the environment to give 100% , but you have to actually give 100%. I can't make you.
If you have something left in the tank, that's on you for not pushing yourself.
I really like your line that your job is to find out what each person hopes to get out of the experience... and then give them that.
Everyone wants something, but initially some don't know what they really want. The longer they're there, the more they --and we - are able to figure out what they want.
One of the guys wanted to be physically pushed. That wasn't the goal of that day's task, but that's okay. He wanted to be pushed, so I made him buddy-carry a guy for the entire thing. He was so strong that had I not done that to him, everyone else would have been bushed at the end and he would have still had gas in the tank. I needed to do something extra to get him to the same level of physical exertion.
Being an instructor is about watching the dynamic and getting to equal levels of physical pain and endurance. We try to push people to the point where they have to decide whether they really want to be there or not, and that means taking them to their limits.
My ultimate goal... I don't care if you make it or not. If you walk away with a greater understanding of yourself then I have done my job. That's the true intent of the program. We want everyone to walk away a better version of themselves.
Hopefully the audience takes away some kind of lessons in their lives, too, because that's my hope for the show - that it helps people.
Say people want to develop greater determination and persistence and can't go on a show like yours... what can they do?
Discomfort is growth. To constantly improve, and to be more resilient and adaptable, whenever there is a fork in the road, choose discomfort over comfort and you will grow.
We're used to choosing comfort. We're used to choosing the easy way. Yet all our success and growth comes from choosing the hardest and least comfortable way.
Say you're an entrepreneur: you chose the discomfort of giving up a paycheck and starting a company. Every success comes from taking the harder path.
Choose the hard path. Choose something that makes you uncomfortable. If you do that every single day, you will grow every single day.
We never grow when we're comfortable.
That kind of future sounds daunting.
But that's the only way to keep growing.
Look at it from a military sense. Say you make it through BUD/S. Or say you make it through RIP. Everyone pats you on the back. Your friends and family say, "Oh my gosh, you made it!"
But that's just the beginning. Selection is easy. The job is the hard part, because the job never ends. There is no finish line. You have to get the finish line mentality out of your head.
Choosing discomfort also means choosing paths that might cause you to fail.
That's great. Failure is another form of discomfort.
One of the best quotes I've ever heard says that if you want to increase the level of success, you need to increase the level of failure. With the show we tried to create an environment where failure is okay.
There's a difference between quitting and failing. I'm okay with failing a thousand times. As long as you just keep going and don't quit, you haven't really failed.
In life, there is no finish line. Get rid of that "oasis on the horizon" mentality and accept that every single day for the rest of your life you need to challenge yourself and choose discomfort and adapt to whatever comes your way.
Do that and you'll succeed. It won't be easy... but accomplishing something worthwhile is never easy.