Curiosity and Carelessness: The Surprising Similarities of Navy SEALs and Entrepreneurs

May 14, 2014 0 Comments

You would be surprised how many similarities exist between small business (or "large" business, for that matter) and special operations. Transitioning into the business world after spending 13 years as a SEAL has afforded me a unique opportunity to see the differences and parallels between the two.

Aside from now using PowerPoint as my primary weapon rather than my trusty ol’ HK 416, the main difference between special operations and entrepreneurs isn’t what problems we solve but rather the mindset we use to find resolution.

Consider this. If you were to write out a list of the top 10 traits that you believe separate a special operator from an entrepreneur, what would they be?

Focus? No, entrepreneurs have to be pretty target-fixated on their purpose when they start a new business.

Courage? Not so much. Anyone willing to swim upstream in today’s fast-paced business environment certainly has cojones.

Determination? Nope, not that one either. I’m willing to bet that some entrepreneurs who start their own businesses do so out of self-preservation and survival rather than pure brawn or brains.

So, what really separates the military elite from the exclusive ranks of entrepreneurs?


Yup, that’s right. By semantics I’m not referring to the meaning of words but rather the contextual significance across diverse situations. What that means in English is this: the mission of special operations is to protect the security and national interests of the United States -- that is our purpose. Entrepreneurs, similarly, conduct business to protect their purpose, which is their business security and entrepreneurial interests. The tenacity, passion and resolve to do so are equal across both efforts -- it’s just a matter of “contextual semantics” that distinguishes the two.

One ingredient that separates those who make it through SEAL training from those who don’t is attitude. The successful minority is willing to try another day despite discomfort, whereas the latter group fails because of it.

Is entrepreneurship any different? Consider the following characteristics of a special operator, and you be the judge:

Consistency. The 15 to 20 percent of students who make it through SEAL training operate on a day-to-day (or minute-to-minute) basis -- they focus on one task at a time. A short-term focus doesn’t take away the value of a long-term vision since a vision is the ultimate purpose that pulls oneself along a particular path. However, focusing on the now allows you to forget about all else and apply 100 percent effort to the demands that need it most. Simply put: there won’t be a later if you don’t survive the now.

Curiosity. Consistency of focus parallels the element of curiosity. Whether it is SEAL trainees or entrepreneurs, each group wants to push themselves further to see if they can withstand the test -- whatever that may be -- to see if they “got it.” There’s a degree of curiosity that exists within the gap that separates certainty from uncertainty, and those who are curious enough to explore that gap see challenges as opportunities, whereas those who don’t never move forward.

Carelessness. A healthy disregard for authority affords the opportunity to write one’s own rulebook if that book doesn’t exist. SEALs have a tendency to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission when they want to act because they know that if they wait, the window of opportunity will close.

Contrition. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages of navigating through the aforementioned curiosity gap. The good news is there is ample freedom of movement and plenty of options. The bad news is there is ample freedom of movement and plenty of options. Don’t be afraid to make a U-turn if the challenge becomes too great.

All things equal, SEALs and entrepreneurs must have the same focus, appetite for curiosity, get ‘er done attitude and humility to know when to say “no!” If you want to check, go back through this article and everywhere you see the word SEAL, replace it with entrepreneur. Now ask yourself, does anything change?


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