SEAL For a Day (excerpt)
“The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.”
(Author and Organizational Psychologist)
About a year ago I, along with about a couple hundred other entrepreneurs, was invited to train with an elite group of Navy SEALs for a full day. The morning hours consisted of physical activity, such as sprints on the sand carrying another person “fireman style” (in a relay race no less!), while during the afternoon hours we learned various combat techniques, clearing corners (think home raid or walking down streets in Fallujah, Iraq), and some emergency trauma practices. There was even a weapons review including a shooting drill (AK 47).
The day started with the entire group lining up on the beach on a foggy morning in Carlsbad, California at 8 a.m. and ended 10 hours later. Even as I typed some initial thoughts of the experience over the following days, my legs remained sore. As we huddled up, an officer explained the ground rules for the day, which ended with him pointing to a large bell hanging about four and a half feet high with a dangling rope. “I can assure you nobody is going to die here today. However, if you decide this just ain’t for you, that is OK; all you need to do is come over here and ring this bell real loud so everyone knows that you’ve just quit.”
Nervous laughter rumbled throughout the crowd. And all I could think was, “that better not be you, Grunburg.”
We were then broken into subgroups and given a taste (a very minute taste) of what the SEAL training experience entailed. From one drill to the next the message would be hammered home by the officer: It would be TEAM above all else.
For instance, you better hope you weren’t caught conserving energy by not counting out your pushups or by not cheering on your teammates in the relay race. If so, you were being selfish – you were putting your interests above the team. The officer’s point was the team is only as good as its weakest link, and under intense pressure a broken link puts the entire team at risk.
The metaphor fits perfectly when you consider the very risky and pressure-packed mission of SEAL Team Six, which was sent in to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden in May of 2011. All it would take was a single weak link under intense pressure and the entire mission could fail. Credit to SEAL Team Six: Even as things went terribly sideways and the first helicopter ultimately crashed, they managed to keep their cool and execute the mission under intense pressure.
Perhaps the greatest trade secret of the SEALs is their unique ability to root out the possible weak links early, and thereby form the world’s toughest, most inseparable high-performing teams.
The officer went on to explain that SEALs are often analyzed and participate in large research studies; millions of dollars are spent by business and government organizations in an attempt to deconstruct and understand exactly how these men are made and what makes them tick (and tick so strongly – in unison). He shared that the graduation rate from enlistment is only approximately 10 percent.
Near the end of our beach “experience,” we were all asked to line up facing the cliffs (with our backs to the ocean). I was thinking, “Seriously? Another photo op? Come on, let’s get real. How many more photos are we going to take?”
However, it got “real” very quickly. This was no photo shoot. We were instructed to lock arms and then walk backwards as the sand sloped into the very chilly 58-degree water, complete with waves crashing into the shore. Then it got fun. We were asked to sit down and then lay back – all the way back, shoulders on the wet sand, still with interlocked arms (elbow to elbow), all 200 of us, as the back of our heads hit the freezing, rushing surf.
I realized quickly that I was now at the mercy of a couple of elements beyond my control: other people (my teammates) and Mother Nature (the ocean). I recall wondering, “Who thinks this stuff up?” and “I hope a rock doesn’t thump my head any minute.”
As another wave rushed in and slammed into the backs of our heads, a few people began to panic, and an interesting thing happened: As the water rushed back out to sea it began to pull some people slightly deeper toward the ocean. With each successive wave we were dragged back toward the ocean by the collective weight of our teammates – still locked arm in arm.
We could not see the next wave coming, and as cold water washed over our heads I could barely make out what the officer was saying: “Only 10 more minutes.” I said to myself, “There is no way we’ll make it another 10 minutes.” The person to my right was already noticeably distressed. Clearly this wasn’t a trial of physical strength, but rather a test of mental fortitude. Undoubtedly, the officers use this drill to filter out enlistees who aren’t likely to perform well under pressure.
Thankfully, it turned out that his 10-minute warning was just a way to mess with our heads, and before we knew it we were told to go roll around in the sand up the beach about 30 yards and then resume our position back in the surf (all within 30 seconds). We did this repeatedly, and then later the same officer explained how this was “nothing” compared to the real drill, where SEAL candidates would remain wet for three days and nights while deprived of food and sleep – an unsettling vision.
The question was later asked in our Q&A session: “Are SEALs born or created?” The officer answered brilliantly: “Both. They have to show up here with the mettle, the basic ingredients, the fortitude and a mindset, and then our training is what molds these raw elements – forges them into Navy SEALs.” This is not unlike the very symbolism employed by the U.S. Marines in their television commercials to recruit new enlistees – presenting a smoldering steel sword hammered under immense heat. Note: The forging is done under intense pressure. That is what galvanizes the team and the mettle of the individual SEAL’s character.
Upon reflection, there were a number of great lessons from that day, and the most powerful might be this idea of the tremendous value of positive, constructive peer pressure and the crafting of a high-performance team. Now, I’m sure there are many men who didn’t qualify (the vast majority), nor did they likely think that it was a tremendously positive peer-pressure experience. However, for the elite few who pass the test, there is no denying the positive benefits the pressure provides to strengthen the team.
Early on it was shared that each SEAL is instructed to look at the soldier standing right next to him, look him deep in the eyes and commit to him personally that he will not let him down under any circumstances, ever.
Now, strangely enough, one of the great motivations for this book, The Pressure Paradox, is at least partially related to where this experience with the Navy SEALs (and teams) intersects with The Habit Factor.
A little background: When our Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) forum, “The Rock” (at the time a group of 11 members), decided to utilize The Habit Factor tracking sheet as an accountability tool to help each member achieve their goals (via habit tracking), we all agreed and committed to ourselves and our “team” members not to let the group down.
In fact, we divided our forum group into two three-person mini-teams and one four-person team. We all decided that we’d compete monthly. The losing team would have to pay $100 for each member, and the winning team would be exempt from paying for dinner that evening. (The group would typically go to a restaurant post-meeting and play something known as “credit card roulette,” which simply meant that the last card pulled out of the bucket was the “lucky” card, and that entrepreneur would get to pay for everyone’s dinner.)
So the stakes were set fairly high each month: You could lose a couple hundred dollars or more – or you could save yourself from losing hundreds of dollars.
Perhaps more important, though, was the commitment each entrepreneur made to his teammates to follow through and not let his team down – to track and record his or her habits daily and email the report weekly. Each member’s score influenced the team’s average. (Note: This team “game” pre-dated The Habit Factor app; we all used the original tracking template and emailed our scores .]
Our entire forum would meet monthly, and we set time aside at the end of the meeting for each member to report on how well they performed their intended five habits (actual days vs. target days, percent). There was typically about four weeks of tracking data between meetings.
As each entrepreneur reported their overall percent, you could feel the energy of the group rise when someone reported a great score; there would even be clapping – often from competing teams. When an entrepreneur’s score was low you could sense the disappointment, yet there was a reaffirmed commitment by the entrepreneur to “get back on track,” along with a rally of encouragement from his teammates. It was obvious that the entrepreneur was “playing” for more than himself.
For example: Of the five habits an entrepreneur believed were most critical to the accomplishment of his or her goal, they might report that “running 3x week for 40 minutes” to keep fit was at 100 percent. Another entrepreneur might report that his “planning” habit or his “use of three financial tools” habit was at 78 percent.
In retrospect, the “team game” of The Habit Factor worked well for a few reasons: clear rules, random rotation of teams from month to month, and clear penalties and rewards.
One month into our “team game” experiment of tracking and reporting, I was eager to hear feedback from the group. In fact, I was so eager I didn’t want to skew the feedback, so I opted to secretly record the discussion. I really wanted to ensure the feedback was genuine and authentic.
What transpired next was entirely unexpected. The Habit Factor and “team game” were huge hits! The feedback was extraordinary; as each member reported their habit-tracking experience, the momentum and enthusiasm spread. These were already high-achieving entrepreneurs who were constantly looking for the best tools and whatever edge they could find when it came to realizing their goals, so I knew we were on to something big.
In fact, one of the more successful entrepreneurs of the group declared that he’s “never tried anything quite like this.” He called the results “magical.” Another entrepreneur told the entire group that aside from the forum itself, “this was the most valuable thing he’d gotten from EO.” That spoke volumes to everyone, because we all knew that our annual membership fee was nearly $5,000 a year.
I left the meeting elated; the feedback was far better than I could have imagined, and the value was already proven after just one month. It wasn’t too long after that the iPhone debuted in the marketplace, and the group encouraged me to develop The Habit Factor app. The app became an instant productivity hit and, more importantly, began to redefine how and what productivity apps should do – focusing less on To-Do lists and more on recurring, core behaviors.
As obvious as it sounds, the idea of tracking as a peer group to create positive peer pressure via a “game” was only something we manufactured to “gamify” the experience for our group (in 2007). I had little foresight into the difference in effectiveness and even efficacy it would provide to The Habit Factor methodology.
In fact, this was the key distinction that led me to explore more deeply the environmental aspect (particularly pressure) upon human behavior. And, coincidently, it was about the same time that my business partner Edmon asked, “So, when’s the next book coming out?” I assured him there was no forthcoming book. In fact, I was quick to point out that I never planned to write any book, not The Habit Factor, not anything!
However, the more I dwelled upon this idea of the Habit Factor having varying degrees of impact based upon the environment, I knew the subject of pressure had to be explored.
When Jordyn Wieber, the gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast (referenced earlier) and Maddie Jardeleza (University of Pennsylvania competitive swimmer) visited our girls U-13 soccer team, they performed another special exercise to underscore the importance of teamwork and, unknowingly, its relationship to pressure.
Jordyn and Maddie spoke at length to the girls about the value of hard work, vision and determination – attributes required in a high-performing competitive athlete. Then, the women gathered about 20 girls together in a circle and laid a rope down in front of them. Each girl picked up the rope, which was tied together (singular), and then was asked to step back. As the girls moved backward, the tension on the rope increased and the circle became tighter and stronger.
Once the rope was completely taut (and, interestingly, hard to penetrate from the outside), the athletes pointed out that when each girl was doing her job – putting in her share of effort and work – she helped to keep the circle strong. The women then instructed one of the girls to let go of her rope, and immediately the circle gave way, its strength gone. The once taut and strong circle had become malformed; it was weak and became visibly penetrable from the outside. These athletes did a fantastic job illustrating to the young girls the incredible influence just one member could have on strong team, and why it was so important for each of them to continue to put in the hard work – to keep pulling for the team!