Friday, May 19, 2017

5 Lessons in Competitive Advantage from Military Snipers

Individuals and businesses alike are always looking for a competitive advantage that sets them apart from the crowd. Here’s the question: are they looking in the right place?

Job-seekers try to craft brilliant resumes they hope will capture immediate attention from HR personnel and recruiters. Graduate students try to get accepted to Ivy League business schools with the hope of building awe-inspiring pedigrees. Corporate managers try to earn multiple professional certifications with the hope that displaying 30 letters after their name will propel them into the C-suite “Crystal Palace.”

Those are all noble goals and great things to possess. If you have them, I congratulate you. However, what if you don’t have them? Will you be forever denied a competitive advantage in the marketplace and consigned to walk the halls of mediocrity forever? Not hardly.

While brilliant resumes, Ivy League MBA’s and professional certifications are great things to possess, they are still only “things.” True competitive advantage isn’t gained by a thing possessed, but by a mindset developed over time.

As part of my continued effort to promote the value of mindset and experience in Corporate America, allow me to share with you a few of the lessons taught in Military Sniper School that speak directly to the issue of competitive advantage. These lessons are applicable to everyone, period. Anyone can master this proven mindset.

1. Snipers don’t stop when they’re tired; they stop when they’re done.

Advantage #1: Driven by Mission. Strength and stamina are true competitive advantages, but true strength doesn’t come from what you can do – if comes from doing what you previously thought you couldn’t do. That type of strength doesn’t come from the body; it comes from the mind.

In the world of business, a person who’s mission-driven will run circles around those who aren’t in spite of their degrees and certifications. Their mission feeds them the energy they need to persevere, and gives them the mental stamina to weather the storm and drive on in spite of overwhelming odds.

2. Snipers aren’t deadly because they have rifles; they’re deadly because they’ve learned how to weaponize math.

Advantage #2: Expertise, not Equipment. Have you ever wondered what’s going through a snipers’ mind right before he pulls the trigger? Mathematics. He’s adding and subtracting fractions, calculating geometric angles and solving time vs. distance equations. The rifle is nothing more than an extension of a snipers’ true lethality: his mind.

In today’s business environment it’s easy to misplace our focus on technology, degrees and certifications as the source of our competitive advantage. That’s a mistake. Those things provide knowledge, but knowledge in and of itself isn’t power. Applied knowledge is power. True competitive advantage can be identified when one is left with nothing but their minds with which to compete … and they win anyway.

3. The sniper motto is “One Shot, One Kill,” not “Spray and Pray.”

Advantage #3: Economy & Efficiency. Studies of the Vietnam War have revealed that conventional forces expended 50,000 rounds of ammunition per enemy kill ($23,000) versus snipers who expended 1.3 rounds per kill ($0.17). The ROI snipers bring to the table is obvious.

Job-seekers sending out hundreds of resumes and sales managers chasing hundreds of prospects would benefit from this lesson. A person who adapts the efficiency inherent to “on shot, one kill” has a distinct competitive advantage in the business world. A person who can manage time, laser-focus on tasks and identify well-suited audiences for their message can accomplish infinitely more than those who don't.

4. Snipers wait for the best shot, not the perfect shot.

Advantage #4: Opportunity & Timing. In sniper school we’re trained to patiently wait for our shot, unaffected by our environment. When the target presents itself, we act: range it, dope it, scope it and pull the trigger. We’d like a perfect shot, but we know that if we hold the scope on target too long muscle fatigue sets in and our scope begins a figure-8 wobble. When that happens, we missed our opportunity.

Ideation without execution has no value, and a person willing to step up, take action and make subsequent course corrections has a distinct advantage over those suffering from “paralysis by analysis.”

5. One sniper can change the world with a bullet on the right target.

Advantage #5: Driven by Purpose. History is replete with examples of snipers having a strategic impact on future events. Dictatorial leaders have been deposed in dangerous rogue nations, drug cartels have been disbanded, and innocent lives have been spared in hostage situations that could have very easily resulted in mass casualties.

A person in the business world who is driven by purpose is the most powerful force to be reckoned with by far. Purpose stems from passion, and those who possess it have a distinct competitive advantage over those who are driven by prestige or material gain.

In the infamous words of Margaret Mead, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. Indeed, that’s all who ever have.” One person can truly change the world, and there’s no reason why that person can’t be you.

True competitive advantage – whether you’re a job-seeker, business owner or corporate professional seeking to excel within your field – is not a thing to be acquired. It’s a mindset that needs to be cultivated, developed and nurtured over time.

Do you really want a distinct competitive advantage in today’s marketplace? Turn your eyes away from the diplomas on your office wall and look in the mirror instead. That’s where it truly exists.


Michael I. Kaplan is a professional speaker, bestselling author and instructor.  You're invited to connect with Michael on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.  Or, contact Michael by email.

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