Sometimes the Safest Place is in a Thorn Bush

If it’s good enough for the battle field, it’s good enough for the boardroom. Let’s talk about the comfort of the environment we work in and see just how committed we are to excellence, making a difference, and having massive impact.

The first time I was placed in charge of a field surveillance operation was in Navy SEAL training (BUD/S). After my team and I set up our “hide”, the location from which we would observe our target, I was to find the instructors and let them know we were ready to begin the exercise. With the news that we were ready, the instructors started off in the direction I came from and said, “Let’s take a look.” As I was about to point them in the direction of the hide they told me not to worry, they would find it. At that moment, this was a laughable proposition to me. The team and I worked hard to ensure we were positioned in such a way no one could see us and that we were camouflaged appropriately. There was no way the instructors could easily find us. In the end, it took them about 10 minutes to locate every member of our team.

The lesson here was simple. We were to be surveilling our target for (only) 24 hours and, the instructors explained, it was human nature to find the most comfortable place to settle in. From a distance, sure, maybe we were invisible. But someone looking to disrupt what we were doing could find us easily. Why? Because they also would go to the most comfortable place to look because it’s human nature. I was sure this was a setup. We had picked a great location, the only location that made sense to spend 24 hours observing the target. The instructor saw my confusion and frustration and walked me over to a huge swath of thorn bushes. He pointed to it and asked me, “Would you ever go in there and look for someone?” I admitted, no, probably not. “Then that’s where you should be.” Simple as that.

Over the years my teams and I set up surveillance locations that made the thorn bushes look like paradise, often for several days on end. Sleep, comfort, warmth, restrooms, conversation, or anything that made you feel normal or human were never in abundance during these operations. But there were a few benefits; solitude, peace, and quiet to do our jobs. We hid in places no one would expect to look for us or was willing to go to find us. And, if they did decide to muster the courage we would be able to hear them from a mile away. This allowed us to focus wholly on our jobs without interruption which led to highly successful operations with the odds stacked against us. The short-term pain of where we decided to observe a target from brought intelligence gains that defied expectations.

So, your challenge is to think about what your team or company’s thorn bush is. Is it the dedicated and consistent planning process that you feel is too hard to implement despite the obvious gains it will bring to operations? Is it the new technology that would temporarily disrupt your operations but would have massive payoff on the other side? Is it your inability to demand your team treat each other with compassion and respect? Is it your team’s inability or unwillingness to take calculated, but daring, risks? Is it you, the leader, and your discomfort with allowing your employees to act with true independence and initiative?

Most often we choose not to see the thorn bush that will give us success in the end. It’s too hard, we get too lazy, and we feel at peace operating where 99% of the people, teams and companies do; the comfort zone. So, if you’re looking for yourself, your team, or your company to be disruptive and have massive impact do yourself a favor and go operate in the thorn bush. Trust me, there’s plenty of room and plenty of opportunities to disrupt the status quo there.

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