“It’s the bearings. Definitely the bearings. They didn’t do the maintenance checks on the bearings”
“Concrete cancer. Definitely concrete cancer. Probably not enough cover to the reo”
“It was the Mafia-supplied concrete. Had too much sand in it”
I’m talking about the recent partial bridge collapse (well, part of it collapsed entirely) in Genoa, Italy. I daren’t speculate as to the reason, or reasons, it collapsed, as I’m sure there’s a bunch of people, much smarter than I, who are busy trying to figure that out.
25 pages in: Haven’t yet unfurled a single sticky tab.
50 pages in: I’m concerned the mighty tome I hold in my hands isn’t going to offer the rich vein of insight and knowledge I had hoped for, and I’m beginning to doubt Ryan Holiday’s recommendation.*
100 pages in: Surely by now there’d be signs of the lessons I’d hoped to uncover? Perhaps they’re in the next Chapter….? I shall press on, because this is turning into something more that I had expected.
150 pages in: Can’t put it down. I’ve abandoned hope of uncovering any specific leadership lessons, but am engrossed by the story of this relatively unknown fighter pilot and his campaign against the US Armed Forces, with whom he served from 1944-1975.
200 pages in: My previous fears are unfounded. It appears I’ve unknowingly stumbled headlong inside the mind of one of the most influential military theorists since Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz, and there are lessons galore.
It’s like The Matrix. There is no escape. I’m a believer.
I can sense John Boyd is smiling…
“Took you a while tiger, but you got here”
* note to self: never doubt Ryan’s book recommendations again.
I first heard of John Boyd while reading Ego is the Enemy. It contained a small piece about a US Air Force Colonel who is considered by some to be one of history’s most prolific military theorists, but remains firmly in the darkness when it comes to notoriety. In one of his recommended reading lists, Holiday pointed to a book on Boyd, noting it as “required reading“.
It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in the design and function of fighter jets (which I’m not), or the military or military theory (which I am). The lessons to be learned in the Robert Coram book Boyd: The fighter pilot who changed the art of wargo far beyond his influence on aircraft design, and extends into an unwavering campaign of self-belief that spanned 15 years and took on the entire might of the US Air Force.
It is simply not practical to try and explain the history and detail contained within the book. Distilling the 504 pages into a short blog post would not do justice to Coram, the book, nor to Boyd himself for that matter – who was a stickler for detail.
Manoeuvrability– it isn’t just sheer thrust, or speed, or fire-power that meant success in the air. It was the ability of a plane, and pilot, to transition between manoeuvres, turning defense into attack, or attack into slaughter, or defense into retreat. His Energy-Manoeuvrability (E-M) Theory is still the foundational piece in many elite military, business and sporting programs, and suggests that your ability to adapt and re-adapt is crucial to not just survival, but sustained success both in warfare, business, and in life.
‘Are you Being or Doing?’ – Boyd is perhaps most famous within the US military for a speech he gave young pilots who faced a cross-road in their career. I won’t do it the disservice of paraphrasing it, so have provided an excerpt from the book directly. In true Boyd fashion, it needs no explanation.
The OODA Loop – Boyd spent years developing not only ways to better design fighter jets and methods of waging aerial warfare, but ways to understand how decisions are made, and the cycle within which they live.
Search for John Boyd on Google and you’ll inevitably come up with reference to the OODA Loop. Management theorists see it as his defining piece of work, and many have since written complicated and detailed thesis papers on it.
Fundamentally it looks to explain the process that a person consciously, or sub-consciously runs when making any decision, big or small. The above diagram is lifted directly from the book and while there’s an obvious mountain of potential explanation behind it, this distillation of a complex process that takes place within your brain is particularly elegant, and better left to you to digest the detail.
I believe the trick here is not to try and actively interfere with the process, but simply be aware that it exists, and that if it exists for you, then it likely exists for every other human you interact with. Understanding that everyone makes different observations, and based on those observations orients themselves differently, and then decides and acts in accordance with those differences, makes for a much less stressful work or home environment during conflicts.
Jocko Willink has a similar approach for those who like their leadership strategies in 6 words or less.
Thinking strategically – Boyd’s ability to out think, out manoeuvre and simply out play entire arms of the United States military, from the outset looks to be the work of The Prince himself. Again, you don’t have to subscribe to military might, or even agree with the way the US handles waging war to appreciate the way Boyd moved the chess pieces to play out what he thought, no, believed, to be simply more important than anything else. His vision of the outcome allowed him to position those pieces better than his opponents, and there were many, very powerful opponents. He understood that in life and business, as in chess, you need to be thinking not just of your next 5-steps, but of your opponents next 5-steps too.
You can’t do it alone – Boyd had his Fighter Mafia, his Reformers, his Acolytes – a core group of people that believed the same as he did, that, in their own differing ways, sacrificed individual glory and fanfare to do what they thought was right, what was necessary, to protect the lives of US fighting forces. They worked symbiotically, centred around Boyd, sure, but collectively they changed the way the entire US military fights both air and ground war campaigns in a post-WWII era.
So to summarise my summary….
When you’ve found something you believe in, and are dedicated to seeing it through, find a bunch of like-minded people, think ahead, assess the threats, and when faced with uncertainty, don’t be afraid to make a call, act and understand the entire thing is a cycle.
All that from a loud-talking, cigar-smoking fly boy self-proclaimed “Ghetto Colonel” who grew up rough, and was told he’d never amount to anything.
Do you have something you believe in? Something you sacrifice glory for in order for it to be realised? Have you read the book? What did you think? So many questions, so many opportunities for you to answer them!
Leave a comment below, or find us on the Contact page.
Today I was humbled by a kids toy. Well technically speaking, it was designated 14+ which means I was humbled by a toy for teenagers (or precocious 7-year olds).
Last Christmas I was given an 1,158-piece Lego kit. A charming Ferrari F40 in fact. It’s currently School Holidays in Australia, and in between bouts of sheer bewilderment as to how parents over the years have survived this terrifying period, I upended the enormous box of perfectly engineered pieces onto the floor and kicked off the build.
It started off reasonably easy, with the chassis and engine bay the first elements coming to life. It wasn’t until the body started to take shape that I realised simply how far away I am from being an actual Engineer.
Dramatic revelation for a Lego build, I know.
As the perfectly sculpted, 99.9999% consistent pieces fitted together into small chunks, and those small chunks fitted together into bigger chunks, and the bigger chunks evolved into an elegant feat of engineering magnificence, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat inadequate.
The way in which these little pieces came together was just astonishing. Now I’ve built a lot of Lego in my life. Like, a lot. I don’t however, recall having the eye-widening, brow lifting response to the thought, the intricacy, the engineering marvel that is the 1,158-piece F40 kit. Chunks were coming together to form graceful curved edges, out of straight bricks! Chunks that didn’t appear to have any rhyme or reason would effortlessly slot into sub-millimetre exactitude, forming delicate wheel arches and passenger foot-wells.
And here I was calling myself an Engineer.
Did I expect that when I left University I’d be neck deep in calculations, clutch pencils and reams of sophisticated looking computer outputs? No. I failed Engineering Computations in 1st year, and probably failed it again in the subsequent Summer School (I think I may have been awarded a Pass Conceded out of sympathy?).
No, I was never destined (smart enough) to be a design engineer, and I knew early on that my career would likely be in the people side of things; solving problems together, leading teams, delivering outcomes as a group.
Which as it turns out I really enjoy and appear to be OK at.
What it did show me though, is that as Project Managers in civil infrastructure, we underestimate, and I suspect, under-value the expertise, input and often brilliance of the designers in our industry. How often have you complained that a design drawing is poorly set out, or about how some element would be difficult (and in some cases, impractical) to construct, or any number of other apparent grievances? Honestly, for me, it must now tally to the hundreds, if not thousands.
How often though, have you marvelled at the fact that someone, somewhere, has coordinated the design of an entire structure, from function, to form, to reinforcement detail, to integration with any number of complex elements, and shown it all in a set of (mainly) easy to read drawings, and then gone to said designer congratulating them with a hearty “Well done!“? Honestly, for me, it must now tally a total of about 3. In 18 years of working construction.
Which makes it about 0.00045 times / day. Which is just not good enough.
Being a Designer must sometimes feel a lot like being in IT. How often do you ring IT and say “Hey there, all my systems are working fine. My email is good, my printer drivers are all up to date, I’ve remembered to change my password in the allocated time, and I just wanted to say Thanks!“?
Honestly for me, it must now tally a total of…..
We only ever ring to complain.
So the next time you see something that’s smart, or innovative, or just a job well done, tell someone. Tell anyone. Send them an email. Do something! Make an effort to find the person or team that designed it, or built it, or maintained it, or swept it up, or cooked it, or whatever’ed it, and tell them.
Covey wrote about it back in 1989 and nothing has changed.
“Satisfied needs do not motivate… Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”
– Stephen Covey
Apart from the obvious, that thanking a person is just a nice, polite thing to do, there are 5 reasons why positive encouragement is important in the workplace:
I realised recently there’s a difference between leadership and true leadership.
In the last few years I’ve gobbled up scores of lessons about leadership, from actively seeking out a range of books, to observations on the fire ground, to random learnings in the every day. What I observed just last week though, was the purest form of leadership I think I can recall – and it’d been staring me in the face for years.
We were on a family holiday, my wife and I and our two young kids up at Nelson Bay (highly recommended by the way). Our eldest son, a five and a half year old terrorist, had done something he shouldn’t have, like all five and a half year olds do, and was being told off by my wife. He responded with something along the lines of “Well it doesn’t matter what you say because Dad makes all the money and paid for the holiday”.
There comes a time, when despite wanting to protect your child from all of life’s ills, that there’s simply nothing a father can do. Son, you’re on your own this time….
While my wife isn’t exactly prone to bouts of expletive-ridden tirades, this had all the hallmarks of being a reasonable excuse to let one roar. Instead, she calmly stated;
“I do everything for you. I’ve given up everything for you.”
The moment of tension quickly passed, and we all got back to enjoying our holiday. I am certain however, that our eldest (and possibly my wife, until she reads this I guess) was entirely oblivious to the power that statement had on me.
For some background. My wife is significantly smarter than I am. First Class Honours in a Science degree I can’t even explain – something about genetics and biodiversity.
Due to, well, life, she went back to Uni later than most, demolished a Science degree, volunteered in Costa Rica doing conservation work, travelled the NSW coast collecting and freezing an invasive species of crabs to monitor their insidious march northward, and got published for her efforts.
What I’m trying to show here, is that she’s no slouch in the brains department, and was primed to kick off a fantastic career in something smart. Something she was particularly excited about.
Then came along marriage and motherhood – both of which I might add, she’s also smashing out of the park. I have no doubt that without her, our entire mob would be a hot mess of (disorganised) chaos. I’m not talking about cleaning and cooking here – I’m talking about our entire way of life. It’s no wonder the kids call her The Captain.
It dawned on me in that brief moment of frustration, that all this time she had been demonstrating the purest form of leadership. Self-sacrifice. For the good of the mission.
You can lead a team at work, you can lead a team on the sports field, and I’m sure you can cite examples where you put the welfare of your team above your own – fundamental to the success of any team, and the sign of a good leader.
What you’re probably citing though is when you didn’t take credit for the work your team did anyway, or that you took the accountability you should have regardless, for the team missing a deadline, or when expenditure exceeded budget. While certainly important – these things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, and I’d suggest they won’t be things you reflect upon on your death bed.
Your most important contribution may not be something you do, but someone you raise
Want to know what matters? Kids, legacy, growing a family. Are they the only things that matter in life? No, obviously, but I’d suggest they’re on almost everyone’s list above missing that deadline.
Want to know what’s admirable? Putting a promising career on hold that you worked godd@mn hard for, re-calibrating the trajectory of your life to care for and support 2 small kids (and 1 large adult-sized kid). Providing an environment where these 3 other humans are given every opportunity to achieve their own successes (and failures), in a space that’s structured, organised, has high standards, is clear, supportive and never-failing.
“We are defined by what we choose to reject” – Mark Manson
What I observed was leadership not towards a short-term goal; hitting a sales target, pouring a slab, winning a contract, but true leadership – for a vision, for something that means something, and dedicating everything to achieving it.
It was a German-born theoretical physicist that said it best.
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
– Albert Einstein
I guess the lesson I learned in that moment was, apart from my wife being a superstar, is don’t just employ leadership techniques you read in a book or a blog, but find something, anything, that inspires you to live true leadership.
As we approach Mother’s Day – take some time to reflect on the sacrifice your Mum made, or is still making, to create an environment where you can achieve the successes you’ve had. If you can, call your Mum today and tell her she’s awesome.
With the recent bushfire activity here in Sydney, I thought it was timely to share some of the exemplary leadership I’ve witnessed in my time within the NSW Rural Fire Service.
In late 2017 I was on a Hazard Reduction burn, an HR. Before we go any further, can we please stop calling these back burns. Back burns are where you use fire to fight fire (which is what happened down at Holsworthy / Menai), and a hazard reduction burn is where you burn off as much of the ground fuels as you can ahead of a bush fire season.
If you follow this blog, you’ll hear me mention three people on a regular basis. Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss and Jocko Willink. I credit them as the majority shareholders in my recent learning investment portfolio. They themselves are prolific in their teachings, and I recommend you read and listen to them all as much as possible. Along with the resources they recommend, they form a 3-person Advisory Council that’s hard to beat. I must note that I’ve never met any of them – although I did once get a Facebook response from Jocko – but reading their books and listening to their podcasts has been as good a schooling as you’ll get anywhere, and I’m thinking of making a trip to Jocko’s Musterin 2019. Side note: Ant, I’ll be crashing at your joint so get that air bed pumped up.
Today’s post is a review of Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way. For reasons unknown, I read the first 3 chapters of the book back in early 2017, and it then sat on my shelf for almost a year. Why? It wasn’t boring or poorly written. I suspect it was because I wasn’t really ready to absorb the message it spruiked on the dust jacket and those early chapters, and I was possibly a little apprehensive, or maybe even blinded by my ego that the lessons would even apply to me.
“It’s impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows” – Epectitus
For reasons even further unknown, I picked it up again recently and simply devoured it. Perhaps I was ready for what he had to say, perhaps I needed to hear what he had to say, but regardless of the reason, it’s certainly made an impact.
The book is set out similarly to his others (Ego is the Enemy, The Daily Stoic – both are highly recommended), in that it looks to break down huge, mind-bending concepts into tasty bite-sized pieces. Similar I’m told, to the way you should eat an elephant. These tasty brain nuggets make the concepts infinitely easier to retain and even more importantly, easier to implement.
So what are these concepts, these principles?
Holiday doesn’t just look to, but succeeds in, cleverly detailing a personal operating system to help you perceive, act and persevere in the face of obstacles. I write that, but actually it’s more – it’s providing a way to entirely refocus your approach to obstacles, great and small. Redefining them in your head so that they no longer appear as obstacles, but opportunities for growth, learning and improvement.
He does this by providing a way to visualise obstacles in the same way Stoicism teaches an approach to life. Three basic principles.
Perception – See things for what they are.
Action – Do what we can.
Will – Endure and bear what we must.
Fundamentally, these principles, or maxims, are what have guided the Stoics for centuries. From the teachings of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and beyond, Stoicism provides us a framework for re-configuring our perspective on life, with the ultimate aim of a simpler life. Simpler doesn’t necessarily mean living like a pauper or foregoing pleasure, but that whichever path you choose is chosen for sound reason. Apart from the seemingly obvious benefit of this, it then ultimately provides you with more time and focus on doing what it is you need to do in this life.
I’ll be sharing a post in the coming weeks on how reading and learning, and practising Stoicism has had a huge impact on my life, but for now you might be asking “What does any of this have to do with leadership?”
I’ll be honest, it’s hard to provide a specific answer to this. If I could, it would have been be me that would have written the book.
What I can tell you is that since trying to implement the fundamentals Holiday writes of, I’ve noticed that what would have previously pi$$ed me off for hours or even days, seems to have shrunk to minutes, or not at all. Is it because I’m older, wiser (ha!), or maybe it’s having two kids who are growing up too fast? Do all these things mean I’ve mellowed with age?
Perhaps. I’m not saying I’ve reached a Zen-level calmness, far from it, but with the stresses and obligations more pronounced than ever before, you’d think this would be offset by any mellowing and I’d still be pi$$ed off. I truly believe that the combination of Stoicism and the teachings of this book have made me a better father, better leader, and a better human.
Yeah right, I hear you mutter under your breath. Check out this sucker caught up in yet another self-help cult. I understand your scepticism. I felt it myself before I started learning again. Just read the book and you’ll see what I mean.
Holiday’s fundamental principle is that the obstacle you face, whatever it might be, is unlikely to go away simply because you want it to. You stub your toe on a table. You then shout at the table, and while you’re at it, you shout at your toe. Neither of these are going to upset the table, nor you toe for that matter. You stub your toe on the table and then take a chainsaw to the table. This is also not going to upset the table. I recommend not taking a chainsaw to your toe. The table is a simple example, but illustrates the point. It is your response to an obstacle which causes the reaction, not the actual obstacle itself. More importantly, it is only your response to an external stimulus that you are able to control.
He’s mindful of not wanting to sound glib, which is difficult when you consider some of the obstacles people face every day. A sudden and unexpected death of a loved one? Hard to see how that’s a good thing, and while grieving is a natural response, Holiday’s approach is to limit the impact that that grieving has on your life, by understanding that there’s nothing you can do to change what happened, and that being paralysed by that grief serves no one. To take it to the next level, the person that’s dead doesn’t care at all.
On a lighter note, the approach can be applied to your work (and home) life almost every day. I’ve stolen from Jocko Willink a method of changing your perspective, whose standard response to members of his SEAL team when things didn’t go as planned was “Good!”
Good! – Jocko Willink (when something went wrong)
Same approach as Holiday describes, but provides a tactical method that you can implement today.
Ammunition re-supply didn’t arrive?
Good! Opportunity for us to practise hand-to-hand combat.
Our operation got cancelled? Good! Opportunity for us to run through the plan a few more times.
Now unless you’re in a combat zone, these may not seem particularly relevant, but in our normal, ‘not being shot at’, lives, the approach still works.
Got a boss that micro-manages you?
Good! Now’s your opportunity to work on methods in dealing with this type of person.
Got looked over for that promotion?
Good! More time to get better.
Good! Now there’s more time to spend with your family who you’ve ignored recently.
“If you can say the word Good! Guess what? It means you’re still alive. It means you’re still breathing. And if you’re still breathing, guess what? You’ve still got fight in you. So get up. Dust off. Reload. Recalibrate. Re-engage.
And go out on the attack.” – Jocko Willink
Your response to the obstacle is the only thing you can control. Re-visualise it and see it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop, and you’ll suddenly find that everything is a lesson in leadership. Even the hard sh!t, in fact, especially the hard sh!t. It’s an uplifting revelation to have.
Obstacles in whichever form they take, are a vast majority of the time, not placed in your way deliberately, or with malice. Obstacles are life’s way of reminding you that you’re alive, and that while you think you may have mastered her, that Mother Nature still runs this show so and you’re really just a passenger. Each time you conquer an obstacle, you’ll learn something. Each time, you’ll develop strength, wisdom and perspective. Each time, a little more of the competition falls away. Until all that is left is you: the best version of you.
“Lose money?” Remember, you could have lost a friend. “Lost that job?” What if you’d lost a limb?
“Lost your house?”
You could have lost everything.
So we’ve covered off Perception and we’re already at 1,600 words. There’s enough meat on this bone to warrant more posts, so we’ll stick with just Perception today and cover off Action and Will in a few weeks.
Of all the stories in the book about Perception, the one that stuck most in my mind, and the one I’ve reflected on the most, is a story about a factory fire at Thomas Edison’s laboratory which destroyed almost all of his life’s work.
Now it’s statistically unlikely that any of us will ever reach the heady heights of Edison, but if he can approach the razing of his factory as a spectacle to behold, who told his son with childlike excitement as the fire raged, fuelled by the strange chemicals in the various buildings, “Go get your mother and all of her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again”, and calmly state afterwards, “It’s alright. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish”, we can surely re-frame having a difficult boss or poor Wi-Fi reception as an opportunity.
Side note: Edison’s factory was up and running again in weeks, at full production some 3 months later, and almost tripled its output and profit within a year.
Make no mistake. It’s hard work trying to implement the approaches outlined in the book. It’s easy to see every obstacle as another reason to rest. Another reason that explains why the other guy is succeeding when you’re not. Another reason to give up.
But that’s the exact reason why you should try. Why you must try.
The only person you should try and be better than…..
is the person you were yesterday
I promise you that you only need to do this exercise a few times to see the benefit. But I promise you will, as the effect is immediate.
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. – Marcus Aurileus
As I promised in my first book review, I’m happy to send through a copy of my index in Excel format. Leave a comment below, or get in touch via the Contact page.
As also as promised, my 3 takeaways;
Edison’s factory fire – everything is an opportunity if you’re open to it.
Changing your perspective on obstacles being opportunities is difficult and takes time. Worth the effort though.
A quote from Amelia Earhart “Always think with your stick forward”. That is, you can’t ever let up your flying speed – if you do, you crash. Be deliberate, of course, but you always need to be moving forward.
Re-framing my relationship with obstacles, and making it part of my existence, is I suspect, going to be something I’ll have to work on for the rest of my life. But in the short time I’ve been trying to implement it, I’ve learned a lot.