Successful systems are all around us. They could be in the innovative way a new company develops ideas or in the improvements in the manufacturing of products. Being a systems thinker I am always searching for more insight into how to build effective and efficient systems that lead us towards success in our business lives and in our personal lives.
One group that I have found to be the example of an elite set of systems solving difficult problems is the US Navy SEALS. The reality is that all of the elite commando units in the United States fall into this category but the popularity of the SEAL teams has provided a lot of information on their systems whereas other groups remain highly secretive.
Trying to better understand their systems one could mistakenly think that they just naturally attract the best and then let them do whatever they want. Or that these are a bunch of undisciplined soldiers who are willing to take greater risks than others. But I feel there is something greater happening that is truly amazing.
The reason that these units are elite is because they have elite systems. They have systems in place to attract a large number of interested soldiers and then use their initial training to separate the toughest soldiers, mentally and physically. They are not interested in transforming the average person into an elite force, they want the best of the best and then they further develop them.
When they develop the team members they focus on working together as a team. They are not single warriors running around like Rambo, they are a finely-tuned system that trains in order to make their movements succinct yet natural, a series of habits that has been identified as the best process for that particular task.
In the book The Trident by Jason Redman, he provides insight into the process of clearing a room for a Navy SEAL team. “Everyone starts from a baseline of tactics, but as you get comfortable with the men around you, it becomes an intricate combat ballet. Only hundreds of evolutions ingrain the muscle memory required to do it properly.”
This is the epitome of a well-developed system. It relies on repetition in training until it becomes automatic; a habit. With this ingrained habit the team now moves through this process in the most effective way. It isn’t 100% guaranteed to work. There is still risk. But with the advanced training the risk is limited as much as possible.
The training isn’t a typical corporate training course. The instructors do not just simply give some high-level overview and turn the team loose. They work with them until it is ingrained in the way they do things. They effectively structure the systems in the best way possible and then train and train until it becomes an automatic response.
The result is incredible. Redman goes on to say “A well-trained SEAL platoon can clear a house in a matter of seconds, with each member of the team knowing exactly what the other is going to do no matter what the situation. It is very similar to the orchestration on a football field where a quarterback and wide receiver develop a special chemistry together. That chemistry elevates their game and makes it possible to do incredible things, such as a receiver catching a ball without ever looking for it. He runs to a specific point, holds his hands out, never looking back, and trusts his quarterback to place the ball there.”
It really doesn’t matter if you are talking about the military, athletics, music, or business. Having elite systems is easily recognizable because they accomplish incredible things and accomplish them consistently over time. Having poor systems is also easily recognizable because failure seems to occur frequently. The same mistakes are made over and over and the excuses all seem to point to external factors.
In order for us to realize our full potential we have to understand and develop elite systems. Most of us will never learn it in the military but we can key in on factors that determine success at that level, and then understand how to transfer that insight into our goals. We have to be willing to work harder and harder and train in a way that solidifies the best processes. But once we do, success becomes the expectation not the exception.