small-business-decisions | OnDeck

70% Solution: The Marine Corp Framework for Making Battlefield Decisions for Small Businesses

Field commanders need to make decisions in less-than-perfect conditions on the battlefield all the time, so the Marine Corps created a framework their officers learn to help them make command decisions—even if they don’t have all the information or the troop strength they’d like to have to ensure success. Leading a small business might not be the battlefield, but sometimes requires us to make decisions in less-than-ideal circumstances.

The Marines teach their young officers what they call the 70 percent solution. It could be a good strategy to consider for making decisions in situations where you don’t have all the information or resources you’d like to have:

  1. Do you have 70 percent of the intel you think you’ll need? In a perfect world you’ll have all the information you need to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Nevertheless, if you have most of the information you’d like to have, you can still make good decisions—provided you accept the notion that you may need to adjust and compensate for the information you lack as you move forward. The Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz coined the phrase “The Fog of War” to describe battlefield uncertainty. Small business owners often experience something similar; and in the same way military commanders need to adapt as things become clearer in the heat of battle, small business owners need to adapt as they execute on their business plans.
  2. Do you have 70 percent of the resources you need? Like a battlefield commander, most small business leaders never have all the resources they need to meet their objectives. Nevertheless, if you’ve got good people and most of what you need, it can sometimes be enough. Finding creative solutions to challenges is a hallmark of successful small business owners. Figuring out a way to go around, under, or over a problem with a less-than-perfect situation often makes the difference between success and failure.
  3. Are you 70 percent confidant your plan will succeed? In other words, do you feel good about your plan’s success with the information and resources you have? The Marines believe a well-conceived plan, along with taking the initiative, is more likely to succeed than doing nothing. Although the decisions you’ll make as a business owner won’t likely carry the same life-or-death consequences as those made by a a Marine officer in battle, a well-executed plan, even when conditions aren’t perfect, can still help you achieve your marketplace objectives.

By talking about the 70 percent solution I’m not suggesting that making reckless or uninformed decisions is a good practice. I don’t believe there’s anything reckless about the 70 percent solution. It’s about getting all the information you can, assembling all the resources available, and feeling confident about moving forward based upon what you know and what’s available to you.

Much of leading a small business is about making decisions. And, some of the decisions you make might be in the middle of the “Cloud of War.” If you have most of the information you need, most of the resources you think you’ll need, and feel good about the plan, execute. Remember, the Marine Corps believe a well-executed plan has a better chance of success than doing nothing. Having a framework to help you work though those challenges might help you make the best decisions possible to achieve success.