More than a decade in special ops and the intelligence community has taught me countless life lessons, many of which I believe apply directly to the startup world. Of course, there are big differences but much like the battlefield, the startup community is a complex and constantly changing environment.
Here, decision making hampered by hierarchy and hesitation can cause you to miss your moment, the results of which can be deadly to you or your business. To not only survive but be successful, requires a certain culture and mindset.
Applying the lessons I learned as a special operations soldier and a leader in the intelligence community to my current role in a Danish scaleup has helped me identify 4 things that all entrepreneurs can use:
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable
One of the biggest challenges when working as a special operations soldier is dealing with the constant uncertainty and rapid changes that result in never feeling comfortable in your surroundings.
Whether you’re on a covert mission, sneaking through enemy territory at midnight or in a high-pressure meeting being bombarded with questions from potential investors, it’s important to reach a mindset where you accept that motivation will only get you started.
When times truly get tough, you need to possess an intense level of inner drive in order to reach your goal. You have to believe in what you are doing. It’s not enough to simply live through the difficult moments or “wait it out,” you have to perform. You have to step up and play an active role in solving the challenges at hand.
- Tribe mentality
There’s a fundamental aspect to building and managing teams that I find people often forget: Keep the structure flat. Focusing on creating trust and confidence in small teams with a lot of decision-making power will spark initiative and help people feel a collective sense of responsibility for their work. Respect the different roles within the team and trust that they know what they’re doing – after all, you hired them for a reason!
In the world of special operations, a lack of trust can get you killed. In high-intensity situations where there’s no room for second-guessing it’s crucial that you can trust your team to make the right decisions. This sense of trust or ‘tribe mentality’ is also vital when navigating a digital and changing environment, as it makes it easier to foster the fail fast, rapid decision-making culture needed to succeed.
- Preparedness, not over planning
In an environment where it’s hard to see the finish line and new challenges constantly impact your strategy, over planning can be very tempting. However, spending too much time in a closed room with your own idea of reality usually results in a plan that works well for you but not for the rapid pace of the world around you.
Rather than attempting to plan for every possible contingency, it’s more important to organize yourself and your team in a way that makes it easy to adapt to the inevitable new realities that lie ahead. The ‘tribe mentality’ is also key to this structure. When you empower small teams to make decisions and take responsibility, it becomes easier to change gears and adapt quickly.
- Lose the ego and respond rather than react
In a chaotic and constantly changing environment it’s easy to become frustrated and react based on emotions. One of the most important things I learned as a special operations soldier is to take a breath and evaluate what an emotional reaction brings to the table. If you as an entrepreneur want an agile team or organization that works well under pressure, it’s important to keep your cool. You need to listen to your surroundings, trust your teams but most importantly, you need to lose your ego and control your emotions. This will give you the ability to respond constructively to a situation rather than purely reacting.
Morten Kvist Carl is the only man in Denmark to become a member of both the Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset), similar to the British SBS, and the Danish Jaeger Corps (Jægerkorpset), the equivalent to the British SAS. Today he heads the Compliance Department at Trustpilot, the world’s leading review community for online shoppers.