Life in the military is strikingly different than that of a startup entrepreneur, but there are many decision-making techniques they use in the military that could benefit entrepreneurs compelled to make decisions with sometimes less-than-perfect information. As we honor those who serve our country this month, let’s take a lesson from how the Marine Corps teaches it young officers to make decisions.
Taking those first steps into the unknown is one of the challenges of starting a new business. Much of the time it feels like there’s not enough information or resources to make informed decisions to take effective action. If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re not alone.
The military deals with situations like this all the time. They very effectively teach their officers how to make decisions and take action with less-than-perfect intelligence about a given situation. The Marine Corps, for example, teaches it’s young officers a decision-making framework for those times, in the heat of battle, when important choices need to be made quickly.
Although most of the decisions a small business owner makes don’t carry the potential life-and-death consequences the decisions a young Marine officer might make, this framework could serve an entrepreneur who needs to make important decisions when they don’t have all the information or resources they would like.
The 70 Percent Solution
Making data-driven decisions is critical for officers in the military and also the hallmark of sound business decision-making.
Do you have the information you think you’ll need? I don’t think the Marines are really concerned about percentages, but are suggesting that if you have as much information as possible, it could be enough. Or at least, don’t put off making decisions simply because the perfect situation isn’t in place before you do.
Over the course of my career I’ve witnessed countless business leaders become paralyzed because they didn’t have all the information they wanted to make a decision. Unfortunately, hoping for perfect information cost them valuable time and often, lost opportunities.
It’s important to know when you have sufficient data to make an informed decision—because you often won’t have perfect information. Sometimes you need to make decisions based simply upon all the information you have available at that time. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to collect as much information as you possibly can. Data is critical to making informed decisions.
Do you have 70 percent of the resources you think you’ll need? During the 30 years I’ve spent in small businesses, I can’t think of a time when we weren’t trying to make do with limited resources. Resources could be people, they could be capital, maybe even facilities, or anything else that will help you get the job done. The Marines teach their officers to gather everything you can, if you have most of what you need, press on.
In the heat of battle, it’s often impractical to wait before moving forward. If success required perfection, there would be a lot less successful people. Success is often leveraging what you have, hopefully most of what you need, and taking action.
Are you 70 percent confident your plan will work? I like this concept because it implies you have a plan, or a strategy. To take advantage of the 70 percent solution, you’ll need a plan—or a strategic approach—to solving a problem, and understand the information and resources you’ll need to execute. I appreciate the implied mandate to take a thoughtful approach to solving business challenges.
I also like the idea that the Marines don’t require you to be 100 percent certain your plan will work. I like this because most of the important business decisions a business owner makes over the course of her or his career likely won’t include a certainty that what they’re doing will be successful. Success often requires learning from mistakes.
Thomas Edison didn’t have the right filament for his electric light bulb the first time. After thousands of attempts he said, “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
He also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
The Marines want their officers to know that a well-conceived and well-executed plan, even if not perfect nor 100% guaranteed, will be more likely to succeed than waiting for the situation to be perfect—because it never is. Execution is the key to success.
This month, as we recognize the brave men and women who serve, or have served, our country in the armed forces, it’s important to recognize the value they bring to our communities, our businesses, our families, and what we can learn from them.