You might be surprised to learn that the philosophy outlined in this Marine handguide is deeply informative of human nature and organizational design. It’s broken down into four sections:
- Nature of war
- Theory of war
- Prepare for war
- Conduct of war
The ‘Nature of War’ section reminded me of what it’s like working in a hedge fund or blitzscaling a unicorn and trying to execute a plan in chaos. Take for example the topic of ‘friction’:
- Friction is “the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult…that resists all action and saps energy”
- Friction my be mental, physical, external, or self-induced
- Any environment with a clash of wills creates friction
The ‘Theory of War’ section wades into war as a tool of political policy. The key takeaway from this section is the idea of ‘levels of war’. Each level serves a role, all are linked, and affect one another.
- Strategic: Strategy and objectives at the highest level
- Operational: Links tactics and strategy. Determines the where, when and under what conditions we engage
- Tactical: Refers to the techniques and methods for accomplishing a particular objective
‘Prepare for War’ is a COO/CFO/CHRO’s guide to operational planning and people management. This section of the book provides both conceptual strategy and tactics on areas covering organizational design, resource planning, equipment management, training, professional conduct, and people management. For example, key insights on training from this section that I liked are:
- Strong individual skills lead to strong unit skills and teamwork
- Training should be relevant, realistic and challenging
- Critiques should allow subordinates to frankly state their opinions of an exercise
The last section, ‘Conduct of War’, is about developing a strategy for winning and executing it. The challenge is to do it taking into account the chaotic and fluid nature of war with human error. Consider the advice on decision-making — “whoever makes and implements decisions consistently faster gains an advantage.” So what’s required for good decision making?
- Situational awareness to recognize the essence of the problem
- Devising creative and practical solutions based on intelligence, knowledge and experience
- Moral courage to make difficult decisions in the face of uncertainty
This is a chapter for both CEOs and line managers!
In sum, this short read packs an intellectual punch and could be recommended reading for a new hire. I think it gets at the core concepts of what it’s like being in an intense business environment and how to operate in a high performance organization that’s helpful for executives, managers, and individuals.