Sunday, March 24, 2019 | ePaper

Business students can learn from the army

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Alyssa Walker :
Military personnel possess many positive qualities: problem-solving, overcoming adversity, resilience, a willingness to try, teamwork, collaboration, communication, and innovation. Sound familiar?
It should, especially if you're a business student.
Military-style boot camps offer more than just the opportunity to push physical endurance. They are also incredible training grounds for all those skills that businesses seek: strategic thinking, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration. It's one reason more MBA programs have started to use boot camp-style training in their curriculum.
Here's what business students can learn from the military:
1.    Technology isn't the only answer
While technology can catalyze change, it's not its only vehicle.
In a 2015 lecture at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster explained that the military has a desire for "simpler wars". He said that in the 1990s, the military had a "vision of future war that was derived from a large measure of what was going on in the economy and in business," and that it streamlined technical operations using technology. He then explained that "This set us up for the difficulties we encounter in Afghanistan and Iraq" as their militaries found ways to subvert that technology.
He said, "We were too biased in favor of thinking about change and how change would affect war and not thinking enough about continuity in war." In other words, technology might be part of the answer-but not all of it.
2.    Rapid problem-solving strategies
In the military, personnel often make big decisions with incomplete information. They learn to make the best decision possible with the information available.
What does this require? The ability to predict, improvise, overcome, and adapt-and to change plans at a moment's notice.
When you have no choice but to solve a problem, you solve it as best you can, even if some of the consequences aren't fantastic.
3.    Knowledge of terrain
Military personnel understand the physical landscape of battle. They consider advantages and disadvantages to some positions and always understand who has the high ground-who has the advantage.
That perspective applies to the business world, too. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of a given business and your relation to it will help you succeed.
Knowledge of the business terrain gives you a strategic mindset-and it's one reason business school boot camps have their students practice navigating difficult and unknown terrain in groups.
4.    Clear communication
The success or failure of any military or business operation hinges on clear, effective, and efficient communication among all team members. In the military, everyone needs a clear sense of the mission-their lives depend on it.
In business, all employees need a clear objective and a sense of the "company vision" to understand where the business is going.
Military missions are planned around a set of core objectives-and so is a business plan.
5.    Accountability
Someone's always in charge. That means someone's always responsible, too. While the military's disciplinary style of accountability may be harsh for business, the concept remains the same.
In the military as in business, for success, everything needs to be where it's supposed to be when it's supposed to be there, and it needs to work correctly the first time. If not, the operation-or business plan-fails.
6.    Accepting failure
Failure is a great teacher. It also has life and death consequences, both literal and metaphorical ones.
In boot camp, you are expected to fail. Your teachers want you to fail. Why? It's better to fail and understand why than to make the mistake when it counts for real.
In business school, whether in a boot camp or not, take a risk. Fail. Get back up. That's what it's all about!
(Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family).
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