Author: Bob Mayer (page 1 of 48)

Do you need to burn your ships or have a catastrophe plan? Write It Forward

In Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author, I discuss and recommend having a catastrophe plan.  I’ll tell you what that is below, but recently I’ve had a “moment of enlightenment” where I realized there are people for whom a catastrophe plan is not necessarily a good thing.  Some of us need to “burn our ships.”

Which are you?  Even more importantly, it occurs to me that perhaps they are both the same, it’s just having a different approach to the same objective.

Here are the reasons to have a catastrophe plan, and the key for creative people is #3:

  1. To prepare for things that might go wrong to keep those things from going wrong.
  2. If the catastrophe happens, you have a plan and can deal with it.
  3. To provide a sense of calm about possible catastrophes since you have a plan in place, thus freeing your mind to focus on what you want to create instead of being worn down with worry.

This is all very nice and well.  But as we always note:  there are many roads to Oz, so one size doesn’t fit all.

Some people work better under pressure, and not so well when they are calm and at peace with their world.  Crisis and catastrophe motivates them rather than defeats them.

Throughout military history there are numerous accounts of leaders who committed their troops to a course of action where there was no catastrophe plan.  Where it was all or nothing.  Victory or annihilation.  Caeser crossing the Rubicon:  Alia iacta est as I learned in my Latin classes at Cardinal Spellman High School in da Bronx.

When Cortez arrived in the New World, he had his ships burned.  No looking longingly over their shoulders for a way home for his men.  Forward and win.  Or die trying.

David Morrell advises writers not to quit their day jobs because then they’ll “write scared” and he believes scared writing is usually bad writing.  I remember hearing him say that at Thrillerfest a few years ago and it worried me for a little bit until I realized writing was my day job and I certainly had no inclination to quit it.

Sometimes scared writing is inspired writing.  Sometimes we are most creative when we are under the most stress.

In Special Operations training such as the Q Course (Special Forces Qualification Course), Ranger School, scuba school, etc. there is an emphasis on placing candidates under extreme stress and then evaluating how they perform.  Those who can’t perform under stress aren’t ‘bad’ people.  Or losers.  They just aren’t people who should be in a unit that is expected to perform at a high level under extraordinarily stressful environments.  To reverse this, however, a person capable of thriving under extreme stressful situations is probably not the best candidate for an occupation that requires repetition and drudgery.  They might go postal on you.

To muddy an already confusing situation, perhaps always looking ahead for possible catastrophes is a form of burning ships.  Perhaps the ship I am currently afloat on has a good chance of foundering.  In fact, I’m pretty certain that nothing is certain.

I stayed “afloat” in traditional publishing for 20 years by always having a “spec” manuscript written in addition to the manuscripts under contract.  Thus whenever my “career” ended because a publisher didn’t renew me for more books, I was already selling a new series to another publisher in the form of that spec manuscript.

In indie publishing, I am preparing for possible changes in royalty rates and business models that might have an adverse effect in the way we are currently flourishing with Who Dares Wins Publishing.  We’re acting, rather than reacting.  We’ll post on this shortly.

So which are you?

A person who needs that backup plan?

The person who needs to burn their ships?

Or the person who always has a backup plan in case their ship burns?

Special Operations Goal Setting. Spec Ops Post #8

Organization goals

If you are searching for your organization’s primary goal, here is a way to figure it out:  Why was this organization founded?  What was the original goal?  I think the primary goal is almost always the original goal unless something drastic has happened, in which case, even if it has the same name, it is no longer the same organization, and somewhere along the way it was ‘re-founded’.

For organizations ask the following questions:

  • Your organization was founded for?
  • The most important division of your company is?
  • Your primary product is?
  • Your brand is?
  • How do you know when your goal has been accomplished?

Just as in writing a novel the most important person to consider is the reader, for an organization, the most important person to consider is the consumer.

Hierarchy of goals

Here is a hierarchy of goals:

  • Organizational Goal
  • Subordinate Unit Goal
  • Mission Goal
  • Individual Goal
  • For Organization (job)
  • For Mission (task)

Here is an example of a weak organizational goal:

“Everyone will now be mobilized and all boys old enough to carry a spear will be sent to Addis Abada.  Married men will take their wives to carry food and cook.  Those without wives will take any woman without a husband.  Women with small babies need not go.  The blind, those who cannot carry a spear are exempted.  Anyone found at home after receipt of this order will be hanged.”

Haille Selassie in 1939

Here is a Special Forces organizational goal:

Special Forces will be prepared to conduct the six SOF missions of Unconventional Warfare, Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Foreign Internal Defense, Counter-terrorism, and Coalition Warfare/Support.

Here is an A-Team’s subordinate unit goal:

ODA 055 will be prepared to conduct all SOF missions with an emphasis on Strategic Reconnaissance with maritime operations capability.

Here is a mission goal:

ODA 055 will infiltrate Operational Area Claw to conduct Strategic Reconnaissance along the designated sector of rail line for fourteen days reporting movement of battalion level and higher units.

Note as we get down to tactical goals, a time factor comes into play.

Here are the two types of individual goals:

Senior Communications Sergeant will maintain a secure link with higher headquarters. (organization/job)

Senior Communications Sergeant will report all designated traffic battalion level or higher along rail line to higher headquarters four times daily. (mission/task)

Note that all these goals are in alignment.  Conflict occurs when goals do not align.

Align The Hierarchy Of Goals In The Same Direction

In an organization, a leader’s responsibility is to make your people realize the unit’s goal is in line with their goal.  That a convergence of the two will benefit all.  It is more important for the leaders to realize this than the followers.

In your life, make sure that your goals align or else much energy will be wasted in the conflict inherent in failing to do so.  If your goal is to lose weight, then your eating habits and your physical activities both have to support that goal.  This sounds very simple and basic but you would be amazed at how often people defeat themselves and keep themselves from achieving their goals.  While we prefer to rail against the world and ‘them’, the enemy is most often ourselves.

Your primary goal, based on your ‘one thing’ cannot change.  Because everything in your life is built on it.  However, I have found in the process of creating, that the original vision tends to get lost to a certain extent.  It is the same when writing a novel.  I am a big believer in writing down your goals and posting them where you can see them every day, so that you do not forget and you stay on the same path every day.

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Another example of a lack of goal setting:  When I was a team leader, the battalion operations officer called me in to his office.  He told me he wanted my team to set up a combination land navigation course/ rifle range.  He said the commander wanted the men to go through a strenuous overland movement and finish at the rifle range where they would qualify on their weapons.

I asked the operations officer what the primary objective of the exercise was.  Was it to qualify on weapons?  Or to practice land navigation?  You can only have one primary goal.  His response was that the battalion commander, our boss, wanted the men to go through a ‘gut check’.   Which was neither of the above.

Problem number one:  I was told to do three things.  While all could be part of one exercise, what I really needed to know, and what I hadn’t been told, was the primary objective of the training I was to plan.  While this might not seem an issue initially—after all it appears all I had to do was set up a land navigation course ending at a rifle range where the men shot, as you will soon see it is a major problem.

At the same time I was in the operations officer’s office, my team sergeant was sitting with the operations sergeant major getting the same—but slightly different—instructions.  Which was problem number two.

I went back to my team room and did a rather strange thing.  I pulled out the army field manual for conducting training, blew the dust off of it, and read the chapters on how to plan training.  I made some notes, went back to the battalion operations officer, and told him according to the field manual, the primary objective of training needed to be specified before planning could proceed.

Was I greeted with open arms and enthusiasm and a hearty slap on the back for following approved Army procedure?

As you can guess, of course not.  After some choice words ending with “You’re just a captain and you do what the battalion commander wants!” I was tossed out of the office.

Some of my questions were:

  • Was the land navigation important?  Or was the goal of the land navigation simply to make the men cover a certain amount of distance before arriving at the firing range, so that they would fire under simulated combat conditions?  If so, then I could accomplish the same thing in a much more straight-forward manner by simply having the men do a forced march to the rifle range and save time and effort all around.
  • Was this to be our required annual qualification?  If so, then the firing was pre-eminent as this was something each soldier had to pass.  If so, then a forced march would be detrimental, but a relatively easy land navigation course would not be a problem.
  • Was the cross-country movement to be done tactically?  Would the men carry full rucksacks?
  • What exactly was meant by ‘gut check?’
  • Do you see the number of questions that evolve when the primary objective isn’t made clear to those tasked with carrying out the mission?

Eventually word of this got to the Commander.  He stopped by my team room and asked me what the problem was.  I explained that I could easily plan and conduct this training, but it would be helpful if I knew what his primary goal was.  He explained that his goal was:  “I want the men pushed to their limits within the designated time period, both mentally and physically, to test team cohesion.”

To me this guidance was very different from running a land navigation course and a rifle range.  What we ended up with was an exercise that we called the Gut Check.  We started with a no-notice alert bringing the team in; having them pack up and load out to the airfield; rig for jumping; board an aircraft and conduct a parachute infiltration; they were met on the drop zone by an ‘agent’ who gave them coordinates for their next point.  If they made the next point in time they found food and directions; if they didn’t make it in time they found just the directions to the next point.  And so on until the team covered an extensive amount of ground in a specified time period.  Few teams made it through the gut check successfully and we also found it tested team cohesion quite well as the Battalion Commander had desired.

The rifle range portion was dropped for logistics reasons.  It was something the operations officer had tagged on as something he thought would be a nice addition, but in reality would have forced the planning to go in entirely another direction.  I was able to give the commander exactly what he wanted with just one sentence of instructions detailing his intent—something we will discuss in the next chapter.

As you can see from this one example all the elements of the elite were involved:  leadership, communication, training, goal-setting and character.

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Special Operations – The CARVE Formula Spec Ops Post 10

Something we used in Special Forces that focused on intent was the CARVE formula for direct action demolitions missions.  Instead of telling the demo man how to attack a target, we would tell him what the result was that we wanted.  The demolitions sergeant would then assess the target in terms of:

Criticality: How important was the target?  What were the critical nodes of the target?  For example, to put a port out of commission for a week, a critical node might be the shipping channel.  Or the cranes that load and off-load cargo.

Accessibility: Could the target be gotten to?  How?  Could the part of the target that was to be destroyed be accessed?  In a nuclear power plant, there are many critical nodes, but some are more easily attacked than others.

Recuperability: How long would it take for the damage done to the target to be fixed?  This goes into the time lock of the mission statement.

Vulnerability: Would the team have the capability to actually destroy the target?  For example, a dam requires a tremendous amount of force to breach, normally more than a team could carry in.  A way around that could be to laser designate the dam and use Air Force assets to destroy the target.  Or, if the team could only rely on itself, perhaps damaging the sluice gates for the spillways, forcing the water to build up behind the dam beyond safety limits.

Effect: What effect outside of the target itself, would the damage have?  For example, a team might have the mission to destroy a bridge that the enemy uses to carry supplies over.  However, destroying that bridge will have a larger effect than just stopping the supply route.  It will also affect the people in the area who rely on that bridge.  Would destroying that bridge have a larger negative effect on the population whose hearts and minds we’re trying to win, then it would be worth to stop the supplies?  Perhaps the supplies could be stopped in another way without destroying the bridge?

After going through these five variables, the demolitions man would have to see if the intent of the demolitions requirement was satisfied.  CARVE was a way intent could be assessed and tunnel-vision could be avoided.

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One time my team was assigned a mission to destroy a strategic oil pipeline (fictionalized in The Green Berets:  Eyes of the Hammer).  We were given the parameters of making the pipeline non-operational for a minimum of seven days.  As we began to do our research on the target, one of the first things we learned was that destroying a normal section of the pipe would not achieve that goal, as the repair estimate for a damaged section was forty-eight hours.  So just walking up to the pipe and blowing it was out.

So the demolitions men began searching for critical nodes.  The thing about critical nodes in targets though, is that the people who own the target also usually recognize these spots and put extra protection on them.  We knew destroying a pump station would achieve the parameters of the goal, but the pump stations were well-guarded.  The odds of successfully destroying one with the assets we had on the team were limited.

We looked at the pipeline terminus to see if we could destroy the means by which the oil was transferred out of the pipeline and onto further conveyances.  However, we were denied attacking the port because the effect would have been greater than simply taking out the pipeline.  So even though such an attack, blocking the channel to oil tankers, would have achieved the goal, we couldn’t do it because it would also have achieved other undesirable effects, including severe environmental damage.

We kept looking, going down the hundreds of miles of pipeline imagery.  Then we found it.  The pipeline crossed rivers in two places.  Over one of those rivers the pipeline was held up by a suspension bridge consisting of two towers and cables.  We consulted with experts and learned that if we blew the cables, the weight of the oil in the length of pipe suspended over the river would be too much to sustain and that section would rip free.  The repair timeline on the pipe over the river was different than that for the pipe on the ground as a barge would have to be brought up river.  Estimates ranged from one week to two.

Security at the crossing was a barbed wire fence and video surveillance, both of which we could overcome.  Apparently the enemy did not realize the significance of this site and had no security force nearby.

We did have to consider the ecological effect of the oil that would be let loose into the river, but the nearest pump station was only a few miles away and as soon pressure was lost on the pipe, the pump station would shut down.

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We had our critical node that satisfied CARVE.  We could achieve the assigned goal.

Sometimes, by using CARVE, the mission statement would have to be changed.  In the same manner, by examining your intent, you might end up having to adjust your goal.

For a personal goal, you should run through something like CARVE.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I do this?
  • How can I do this?
  • What effect will doing this have on me and those around me?
  • Will doing this actually achieve what I want?
  • Intent can help you think ‘outside the box.’
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