How have you applied the lessons you learned in the military to being an entrepreneur? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Personal and leadership lessons learned in the military are transferrable to the business world. Discipline, confidence, goal setting, and planning are all skills military officers and NCOs develop in the military. My experience in special forces was particularly applicable to being an entrepreneur. I would say the ability to think outside the box, embrace risk, and operate in the gray has served me particularly well as an entrepreneur.
Green Berets are given missions that are unconventional by nature and are not in most field manuals or textbooks. As the commander of ODA 936 "Hammerhead Six," I was given the mission to go to the Pech Valley, build an A-camp, recruit an army of locals, secure the valley, and destroy or deny sanctuary to al-Qaeda operating in the area. No special forces team had operated an A-camp like this since our predecessors in Vietnam. There was nobody who could tell my team how to accomplish this. We had to go into the situation and think outside the box. How does a group of bearded infidels raise an army and win over the people of a valley renowned for hating foreigners and being rebellious to any government oversight? We listened to the locals, we built a clinic and schools to create goodwill, we involved local builders to help us construct and improve our camp. We added value to the community and received intelligence and guidance from the local leadership. We were accepted, supported, and successful with the people due to activities that were somewhat pioneer.
Risk is a required, inherent part of business and it is rewarded. As an entrepreneur you are taking risk with your own money instead of shareholders'. It takes a certain level of risk to venture outside the W-2 world and take an idea or effort and see if the market will bite. In the Pech Valley, we took a risk even signing on for the mission and then realized we would have to take risks often to accomplish our goals. We had to hire local soldiers to put an Afghan face on our operations. This meant doing patrols, operations, and sleeping in a camp with 130 local Afghan fighting men. It was a requirement to accomplish our mission, but we risked any of those men turning on us. In the chapter "High Noon" of the book I lay out a situation where I publicly challenged the al-Qaeda commander to a one-on-one duel. It was a highly risky proposition, but one that rewarded us with goodwill and political capital. The British SAS motto is appropriate when describing special operation missions or business ventures: "Who dares wins."
Operating in the gray does not mean skirting the law or ethics. It means venturing outside the comfort zone and pioneering into the unknown with little or no external guidance. It is similar to thinking outside the box but falls more into the execution mode. As I described above, the mission to the Pech Valley was an experiment in unconventional warfare. There were people who thought we would fail, be killed, or be wildly successful. When we would run into an issue and I would ask my superiors if I could do option A or option B, the response was "Nobody is doing either, so proceed as you feel appropriate." I would have to take responsibility for pursuing a course of action that was off the beaten path. In business, people are often afraid to execute on innovative ideas for fear that if it was a good idea others would already be doing it. That isn't true. Most are afraid to step away from the pack and change the norm. Entrepreneurs have to be willing to step off the path and pursue better routes even if if takes them away from the warm glow of the status quo.
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