I know that lately with my non-fiction book reviews, I've been primarily listing the notes I took. But I took six pages of notes on this one. I'd be doing both you and Extreme Ownership a disservice if that's how I approached this.
What I'm going to do first is recommend the book. It's a quick read (I read it in three sittings, despite taking six pages of notes), it's really interesting and it's immensely practical.
In each chapter, Babin or Willink (they each wrote half the chapters) begins with a combat story. They set the stage, discuss the mission, how it was designed and executed, what went right and wrong, and discuss the principles at play. Then, in a short section, they more clearly define the principle. Finally, the chapter concludes with the principle at play in a business setting — using an example from a business their company has actually worked with.
The combat stories are interesting to me as someone who has never been in combat; I imagine they'd be interesting to someone who has served, as well. The principles are clearly defined. I've seen many of the business examples at play in companies I've worked for.
I tend to take bodies of work as a whole in my brain. These items were certainly in the book, but they also bleed into the podcasts and other writings. These are my four favorite takeaways (but again, read the book and listen for yourself). You can also scroll down to the bottom of this post for photos of my notes if you want more.
When the team understands the mission, they can better carry it out. This isn't a new idea, but it is something that leadership has long been resistant to. Jump to around 50 minutes in this Richard Feynman lecture — when the military conscripted a bunch of engineering students to punch holes in cards at Los Alamos, it was slow going. But when Feynman got clearance to tell them what they were doing and why, they went from solving three problems in nine months to solving nine problems in three months, inventing new processes and programs along the way.
Too often, the people doing the work are asked to just do the work, without any insight into the larger goal. In other words, they don't have a look at the big picture and are just checking off something on their to-do lists.
Be willing to tell your frontline workers why you want them to do something. At the very least, you give them a sense of purpose within the larger context of what you're trying to accomplish. You might get a lot more, though: you might get better ways to do things. You might get insight into other ways to accomplish your goals. You might get insight into other things you're also accomplishing without realizing it.
The more people you have invested in the goal, the more likely you are to be successful.
I think enough time has passed that I can talk a little about the time earlier this year when I thought I was going to be unemployed. I had received a month's notice that my department was to be eliminated. A little less than two weeks later, an asshole with a gun shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, and instead of waiting until 9 a.m. to post to our news sites, when I was scheduled to work, I delayed my run by half an hour to post it before 7 a.m. A few days later I got a call that the company had decided not to eliminate my department.
I'm sure that the one action I took did not save the department. I'm sure, however, that it helped. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't understood our mission as a company and what my role in accomplishing that mission was. I don't post news to check "post news" off my to-do list, I do it because it helps us achieve our goals. If I didn't understand that, I might have just waited until it was time for me to clock in.
Departments within the same company need to find a way to work together without blaming each other for shortcomings. I've encountered this problem in every company I've ever worked for. Some of those companies have been hugely successful. Some have failed.
In every case, the problem has been communication. Specifically, a failure to communicate a reminder that different departments are not competing, trying to keep each other down. We are working toward the same goal. It seems sometimes like Department A is trying to sabotage Department B. In all likelihood, it really is that Department B has never told Department A what the problem is how Department A could better help Department B — and conversely, ask if there's a way for Department B to help solve the problem, with different communication or other practices.
Leadership works in two directions within the chain of command: Down and up. Leadership is a personality trait more often than it is a function of title. If you have a leader among the rank-and-file, you'll want to make sure you listen, even if you're a great leader. A higher rank is not always an indicator of the best idea for every situation.
In about 4 of every 5 shifts I work, I have rank. I'm good at a lot of things. Sadly, delegation is not one of them, but I'm working on that. One of the things I have definitely gotten better at, though, is recognizing strengths in others and either leaning on them for the things they're strong at, or asking them to teach me those things.
If you want to change the way things are done, pick your battles and earn the right to be heard. This is hugely important in every organization, not just companies. Every organization has its faults, and many of them are operational. "That's the way we've always done it" is a common answer for why things are done the way they are. That doesn't mean it's a good answer.
When you see something that could be done better, it makes sense to speak up. But first, you must show you understand the mission: why you're doing the thing you're doing and why it's been done that way for so long. You must be a voracious worker — someone who has earned the trust of those who have the power to change things before you'll really be heard up the chain of command.
And if you make noise on one thing, you might not get heard on something else, so pick your battles. You don't want to be seen as a complainer, someone who just hates all the processes. At some point, you'll just be the boy who cried wolf.
Willink also has his own podcast. I personally don't enjoy it: his delivery is very dry even if the information is interesting; it's not for me. I know other people who enjoy it.
Political disclaimer: Willink and Babin are both veterans. They served their country with honor. They support the missions given them. They also follow Department of Defense guidelines n the way they write about war, soldiers and the U.S. mission. You do not need to agree with them to get a lot of their work. You do, however, need to be willing to look past your own prejudices, whether you agree with them or not. Either way, I don't believe either of them is guilty of blind boosterism.
Note: This podcast was recorded before Ted Cruz's Super Saturday victories and Ben Carson dropping out of the race.
We have problems with our politics these days. I've been holding off on posting about it because I'm not sure I've had reasonable words, but comedian (and UFC commentator, etc.) Joe Rogan and former CIA covert operative Mike Baker really get it right.
Baker, who is more a rationalist than anything else (he has operational issues, for example, with Hillary Clinton — he explains in plain language what happened with her email), spells out the issue with anyone willing to run for the presidency: "There's a certain personality type that's way up its own ass that allows you to think, 'Yes, I should be president of the United States.'"
"We're down to assholes, basically," agrees Rogan. "Bernie Sanders seems like an old kook, he doesn't seem like an asshole," but he doesn't seem to think we should really be voting for anyone who would actually want the job.
That all happens in the first few minutes of the podcast, by the way. You needn't put yourself through very much of the video above (the first five or seven minutes will be plenty to get you started) to see where they head with the conversation.
Let me be honest with my perspective, before we get too deep in here. I'm a disenchanted liberal. I grew up in a strictly Democratic household, and identified as a Democrat until about 2000, when I really saw Ralph Nader's point. Barack Obama brought my back into the party, but quickly lost me (here's my very hopeful post after his first inauguration, and my jaded look forward after his reelection). I now live in a state with open primaries, so I have no need to register for a party ever again. In political "quizzes," I match up as a left-leaning Libertarian.
Louis C.K. — another comic — writes, in what I think is a really important rant about Donald Trump, puts it nicely:
When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren’t enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while.
Around 11 minutes into his discussion with Rogan, Baker points out that somehow compromise is now seen as a weakness. And that's really a major problem for me. That's what we're built on: discourse and compromise. The rhetoric from both sides these days is not only angry, it's vindictive. And that's our fault as voters.
It's been pretty well figured out, I think, that to win a primary, a candidate has to move toward an extreme, and then will have to move to the middle to win a general election. What we don't know is what happens when the president gets into office — on Day 1, is he handed a book (he, here; we haven't had a she yet) of what we know and then he has to look back on his campaign promises and say, "Holy crow, we can't do that!"
Baker says soon we're going to need an end to the two-party system, to really have stronger other options. He also goes on to say he thinks presidential candidates should have to disclose who they'd like in their cabinet: after all, presidents don't know everything about everything, they take advice from their circle. Rogan goes even further, saying maybe we should eliminate the position of president, instead making decisions by committee.
We sort of do that, actually. We need a point person, and the president sort of acts as CEO — the board (cabinet, generals, etc.) gives him all the options, and the president has to make the final call. For example, Baker points out, there's a lawyer in the White House who advises the president on whether the secondary casualties that would result from going after a "high-value target" make it a doable operation.
As for Trump, Rogan says that people like him because he "talks shit," which he clearly does. Personally, I don't want someone who's verbal political tactics are a great way to get into a bar fight. "There's so many goofy white guys who are ready and psyched to have a reality star as president," he says.
C.K., in his rant, calls for people to just read up a little on Trump. "If you do vote for Trump," he writes, "at least look very carefully at him first." Here's a guy who has said he likes people who weren't captured, but further, that John McCain, who was the target of that criticism, "has to be very careful" for criticizing the candidate and that "he'll find out" why. I don't know about you, but the way I read that, any US soldier who gets wounded or captured is going to be in trouble, and that if you say anything bad about Trump, you'd better be prepared for...something.
We do know that Trump wants to change libel laws (that's a conservative publication I linked to, by the way). The Daily Beast (which claims to be independent but seems to lean liberal at a quick glance) has a good explanation of our current laws and Trump's proposed law.
Whatever you think of the Chronicle's take on Trump gutting the First Amendment, I can say that I watched his Super Saturday rally and noted that Trump said, before taking questions, "you know the press is among the most dishonest people created by God, so I would love to take a few questions from these dishonest people." Start around 12:37 here:
If I'd have been there, I probably would have left. As a voter (and Jew and member of the media), I'm scared of Trump; as a journalist, I'm over him. If you could get me to go to cover a rally, I'd be there with duct tape over my mouth.
Trump calls reporters dishonest, says he hates answering questions and that he'd rather just campaign. Let's just stop covering him.
I'll close with Baker talking about Trump and the American Dream. Baker served the US as a covert CIA officer abroad for many years, and now runs an intelligence agency called Diligence LLC (around 51 minutes into the conversation).
How does it happen that this country — this fantastic country, and again I've spent most of my life overseas — I can go to the deepest darkest shithole out there, somewhere out there [in the] middle of nowhere, and someone will say, "if I go to America and I can work this hard and I can do really well, I just have to, you know, if I can get to America," they still — people out there in the middle of nowhere — still believe the American Dream.
And yet you worry about it, because I think we seem to be giving up on it here. If this is the best we've got, if we're willing to follow this guy down the tunnel, I don't know where we're heading, but it's not good."
A photo posted by Justin "The Viking" Wren (@thebigpygmy) on
That's fun. Let's see video of that.
Or as long as we're sharing videos, how about the first time the people he's helping saw a white guy?
Wren quit fighting through what probably could have been his strongest years — his mid-20s — to start a nonprofit to help the Mbuti Pygmy people get clean water. Fight for the Forgotten and its partner, Water4, dig wells to draw clean water for a people who are enslaved. Workers go to the fields for oppressors to earn two bananas a day to share among families of four — it's just enough food to keep them healthy enough to work, and it keeps them coming back to work because they need the food.
These are people who are still using army ants to stitch wounds — they have the ants bite the wound, then break off the body, leaving the fangs in to act as staples.
Wren has suffered malaria, parasites and other tropical diseases. His organization employs 17 people full time, but has dismissed more than that to find the right people — people who can survive dense jungle for a month or two at a time, return to the U.S. for a couple of weeks to recover, then go back.
He's back to fighting so that he can raise further awareness, and he's a partner in a documentary on his journeys.
He was on Joe Rogan's podcast this week (he's been on before), and around the one hour, 20 minute mark, he renders Rogan pretty much speechless. It's really amazing listening to Wren talk with such passion and humility, especially while Rogan explains to him that in a few generations, he's going to enter tribal mythology. As a giant, white, hairy myth.
What would you do with an extra 10 years on your life? An extra 100? An extra 1,000? We might be heading that way.
Yuval Noah Harari, speaking to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, notes that death used to be what he calls a metaphysical problem — something decreed by the gods — now, we see aging and death as a technical problem, one to be solved by science.
He also notes, however, that over the next several decades, people will lose their value both to world militaries and to world economies, as machines take over. As that happens, Harari says, we might also see a halt to our system of mass medicine. In that case, instead of having people fix the consequences of aging (Alzheimer's, arthritis, etc.), we'll see research to prevent aging altogether.
Research is advancing in both, to be sure — scientists are using origami to design nanobots that will course through our blood, battling the bad stuff — but there are also some people doing research into helping us live, in good health, indefinitely.
Terry Grossman runs a center that tests pretty much everything that has anything to do with showing the effects of aging, with an eye toward correcting it. Some of the more underground research, though, is being done by people like the folks at Sierra Sciences. Founder Bill Andrews is looking to "cure aging or die trying." He runs an ultramarathon (50-100 miles) every month, in his 60s. His bio says his goal is to run a seven-minute mile at the age of 130. Hear him on Singularity 1 on 1.
The SENS Research Foundation is doing a lot of research into biorejuvenation — the idea that we can use, perhaps, stem cells to make our parts function as if they are in their prime with an injection or something similar. Once your heart starts to fail, for example, we'd be able to make it work well. And not just once — if a heart's prime life span is 30 years, every 30 years, we'd rejuvenate your heart. Or your liver. Or your eyes. Or whatever you needed.
Aubrey de Grey is that center's outspoken lead scientist. Hear him on Joe Rogan's podcast. One thing I find really interesting on this podcast is that the two do get into some discussion of the ethics — while defeating aging certainly sounds like a noble cause, when do we run out of resources, both as a planet and as individuals?
Grossman, Andrews and de Grey are all featured prominently in the documentary The Immortalists.
There's also another branch of immortality research called transhumanism, which really seems to be a live-forever-at-all-costs movement. Artificial limbs are the beginning of this line, but merging humans with machines — what science fiction calls "cyborgs" — is the direction this research is going.
The most visible proponent of this, at this moment, is author Zoltan Istvan, who is running for U.S. president in 2016.