“Battle Leadership” by Adolf von Schell

Pulled a few lessons from “Battle Leadership” by Adolf von Schell. Interesting perspective considering von Schell was an active German Army Infantry officer. This book is a collection of lectures given by von Schell to the U.S. Army Infantry School during the interim time period between World War I and World War II.

  • The psychology of the soldier is always important. No commander lacking in this inner knowledge of his men can accomplish great things.

Knowing the people in your organization is critical to nearly all leader’s success. The motivations that drive individuals can be as unique as the people they reside within. Having, at the very least, a cursory knowledge of those motivations will allow the adept leader to shift and adapt their leadership approaches toward the individual. This is particularly challenging when the number of people being led increases above ten.

  • Dangers that are thus foreseen are already half overcome.

Most of us fear the unknown. When those unknowns are encountered, either by design or not, they become less threatening. By removing the fear of the unknown, the legitimate fear of that danger can actually be addressed. Additionally, planning and realistic training can help people cope with their fears when they encounter them in the “real” world.

  • It is comparatively easy to make a correct estimate if one knows the man concerned; but even then it is often difficult, because the man doesn’t always remain the same. He is no machine; he may react one way today, another way tomorrow.

Under stress and extreme situations, even the most level man can behave unpredictably. Regardless of the training situations that the individual may have encountered, a leader cannot fully expect for the individuals response to be the same in the “real” world. Quality, realistic training can help remove some of this uncertainty, but not entirely. Also, people are crazy and we are not robots. Our moods, desires, and motivations can shift daily if not even quicker, making our reaction to the same situation variable.

  • This desire to act is, in my opinion, the reason why soldiers go so willingly on patrol. I repeat that it is extremely difficult to lie in hostile fire and wait, because one feels exposed to blind chance. On a patrol it is different. The soldier feels that his destiny rests in his own hands.

Defense is more difficult than offense. In the defensive situation, the individual ultimately must wait for the enemy to attack. However, on offense, the attacker has the initiative. The offense is by design one step ahead of the defense. Well trained and thoughtful defense can counter the best offense but it is still reacting to the moves of the offender. The default aggressive mindset comes to mind because even if playing defense, those players must be proactive, attacking their own weaknesses before their opponents can.

  • It is certainly evident from training in peace that the more freedom allowed a subordinate leader in his training, the better the result will be. Why? Because he is made responsible for results and allowed to achieve them in his own way.

No one likes to be micro managed. As he discusses later, plans must be simple and the commander’s intent must be clear. If given the guidance, resources, and training necessary to achieve the commander’s intent, then subordinates must be allowed to accomplish objectives in the manner they see fit. That freedom to maneuver must be earned and trust must first be established between the senior and the subordinate.

  • War is governed by the uncertain and the unknown and the least known factor of all is the human element.

As we said earlier, people are crazy. With that craziness, they are inherently unpredictable. Most of us, even in daily life, do not make logical decisions. Right or wrong, there are internal motivators, both conscious and unconscious that drive our minds to make decisions. Snap decisions especially, as noted in “Thinking Fast and Slow” are made so quickly that our conscious brain sometimes does not even have time to process everything we think we see. See also “Blink.”

  • Our mission and our will are often the only things untouched by obscurity. These will frequently form our only basis for an order. If a leader awaits complete information before issuing an order, he will never issue one.

Many times the 90% solution is good enough. It’s not perfect but it will get you close. Do not be trapped by analysis paralysis. You may be wrong. That final 10% of information could be critical, but you don’t know that, and you never will until you act. Additionally, in most situations, we are not going to know when we have 100% of the information.

  • Difficult situations can be solved only by simple decisions and simple orders.

We must remind ourselves that decisions and orders must be simple. Simple does not mean easy. Clausewitz write extensively about the frictions in war and that everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.

  • One of the most difficult things we have to do in war is to recognize the moment for making a decision.
  • It is usually more difficult to determine the moment for making a decision than it is to formulate the decision itself.

The decision to act is often the most difficult decision to make. Sometimes the most successful leader is the one who is able to act without knowing the entire situation.

 

  • There is tragedy in the fact that the soldier must learn from examples of the past and only rarely from the present.

Some call this “corporate knowledge,” others may call it “lessons learned.” Sadly, those lessons are easily lost if not reiterated and discussed. The past is our greatest teacher, but it should not be our only teacher. The present moment has her own lessons and one must not be looking so far to the past at the expense of the present.

  • When all is said and done, it is the infantryman who makes the attack and in whose hands rests the decision of victory or defeat. It is his back which sustains the heaviest burden; his body which suffers the greatest hardship, and his life which is suspended by the most tenuous thread. Therefore, it is he who is most vitally concerned with the enemy, with the hostile position, with the terrain over which he must operate, with the artificial obstacles which he will have to overcome, and with a thousand and one schemes for the conduct of the attack.

When making decisions, the leader must not forget the cost and toll that their decisions will have. In this case, von Schell reminds us that the infantryman will bear the burden of his leadership’s decisions. Hence, the infantryman must have a vote. Additionally, the infantryman is the expert; his life depends on it. As a leader, remind yourself of the implications of your decisions and take into consideration the opinions and expertise of the front line troops. Those troopers will be the ones executing your orders.

  • At the very beginning of the war, all armies learned that far more time is required to prepare an attack than had been thought. They also learned that once battle is joined the opportunity to issue detailed orders is gone. For this reason, orders should cover everything that can be foreseen.

There are countless quotes about the usefulness of planning. Eisenhower said, “plans are useless, but plans are indispensable.” Others have said “failure to plan is planning to fail.” Whatever quote of your choosing, understand that at the time of action, the planning phase is complete and the execution phase has begun. During the planning process, attempt to identify and mitigate all of the contingencies that you can imagine. Be detailed, be specific, but understand that as soon as you shift to execution, you will realize that you overlooked something. React to those issues but keep your reaction simple.

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“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain

When my wife and I heard about Anthony Bourdain’s death, we were both shocked and saddened. To learn that he had taken his own life was even more shocking. Sadly, the impetus for reading “Kitchen Confidential” was his death, although the book had been residing on my bookshelf for many years. Not only was it a brash look at the dark underbelly of the cooking industry, it was also an insightful glimpse into the world of Bourdain himself, clearly passionate about an industry that kicked him around for many years. While reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, I could not help but think about Bourdain’s prose. Bourdain’s attitude, approaches, and demeanor did not immediately scream PROFESSIONAL, but his commitment and dedication to an art certainly did. Below are just a few notes from this book that I captured, more out of entertainment than insight for myself although there is deep meaning within.

  • Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me . . . and others. This was valuable information.
  • Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying.
  • Good food and good eating are about risk. Every once in a while an oyster, for instance, will make you sick to your stomach. Does this mean you should stop eating oysters? No way.
  • never order fish on Monday, unless I’m eating at Le Bernardin — a four-star restaurant where I know they are buying their fish directly from the source. I know how old most seafood is on Monday — about four to five days old!
  • Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.
  • A proper saute pan, for instance, should cause serious head injury if brought down hard against someone’s skull.
  • All the food was simple. And I don’t mean easy, or dumb. I mean that for the first time, I saw how three or four ingredients, as long as they are of the highest and freshest quality, can be combined in a straightforward way to make a truly excellent and occasionally wondrous product.
  • I like to hear different accounts of the same incident from different sources. It adds perspective and reveals, sometimes, what a particular source is leaving out, or skewing to leave a particular impression, making me wonder: Why?
  • Appreciate people who show up every day and do the best they can, in spite of borderline personalities, substance abuse problems and anti-social tendencies;
  • Don’t blame others for my mistakes. I am attentive to the weak but willing, if merciless to the strong who are not so eager to please.
  • When they’re yanking a fender out of my chest cavity, I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.
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The Importance of Strength

An excerpt from Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” to begin the discussion. I disagree that physical strength is the most important thing in life. I believe that knowledge is more important than strength. With knowledge, one can find strength, and realize that strength is critical as well. But it’s not as if you have to chose one or the other. Unfortunately they are both virtues that are difficult to achieve.

The value of physical fitness is immeasurable. Without good physical condition, your life is more challenging than it needs to be. Being physically fit affects every area of your life whether you realize it or not. If you are not in a “healthy” condition you jeopardize your ability to earn money, make a living, raise a family, and to be around long enough for any of that other stuff to matter. Here’s the rub, being healthy is hard and it is not expedient. It is a daily battle filled with daily big and small decisions. And tomorrow, it doesn’t get any easier, just different.

“Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals- our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.”

“As the nature of our culture has changed, our relationship with physical activity has changed along with it. We previously were physically strong as a function of our continued existence in a simply physical world. We were adapted to this existence well, since we had no other choice. Those whose strength was adequate to the task of staying alive continued doing so. This shaped our basic physiology, and that of all our vertebrate associates on the bushy tree of life. It remains with us today. The relatively recent innovation known as the Division of Labor is not so remote that our genetic composition has had time to adapt again. Since most of us now have been freed from the necessity of personally obtaining our subsistence, physical activity is regarded as optional. Indeed it is, from the standpoint of immediate necessity, but the reality of millions of years of adaptation to a ruggedly physical existence will not just go away because desks were invented.”

“Like it or not, we remain the possessors of potentially strong muscle, bone, sinew, and nerve, and these hard-won commodities demand our attention. They were too long in the making to just be ignored, and we do so at our peril. They are the very components of our existence, the quality of which now depends on our conscious, directed effort at giving them the stimulus they need to stay in the condition that is normal to them. Exercise is that stimulus.”

“Over and above any considerations of performance for sports, exercise is the stimulus that returns our bodies to the conditions for which they were designed. Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard physical effort. Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem- it is a thing we must do anyway, a thing without which there will always be problems. Exercise is the thing we must do to replicate the conditions under which our physiology was- and still is- adapted, the conditions under which we are physically normal. In other words, exercise is substitute cave-man activity, the thing we need to make our bodies, and in fact our minds, normal in the 21st century. And merely normal, for most worthwhile humans, is not good enough.”

 

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“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” was an interesting look into the creative mindset. The decision to follow a calling is undoubtedly difficult. The safety, security, and stability of most jobs is one of the sources of resistance most people feel when choosing to pursue a passion or not. One striking point that I did not fully consider until after reading this book was that those with a talent have an obligation to suffer with that talent. The daily grind and the behind-the-scenes struggle that most professionals, especially those in a creative field, must endure is mostly unseen by the beneficiaries of their art. It is similiar to the professional athlete that dedicates themself to early morning workouts but only gets to display their labors on the competition floor.

The other area of this book that I found very useful was the discussion on amateurs versus professionals. I write more about it in the post “What is a professional.” “The War of Art” focuses mostly on authors, the analogy I used when thinking about professionals was in the culinary arts. While there are many talented and inspired professional chefs, there are also innumerable professional cooks that battle daily with the machinations that make a professional kitchen run. Anthony Bourdain provides a brief glimpse into the world of the kitchen professional in “Kitchen Confidential.” The reason I think about cooking when it comes to amateurs versus professionals is that I personally enjoy cooking. I enjoy the processes, systems, and results to a degree that I find joy in the prodcution of food. However, I do not have what it takes to be success in the restaurant industry, because I am just an amateur. As Pressfield says, “The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.”

There are countless other lessons throughout this book. Most importantly, I take away the importance of being honest with yourself. After you are honest with yourself, the most difficult step is the first one. Committing to the unknown, and then honing your craft, day in and day out, no matter what.

  • The enemy of creativity Resistance, his all-encompassing term for what Freud called the Death Wish — that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.
  • The day-by-day, step-by-step campaign of the professional: preparation, order, patience, endurance, acting in the face of fear and failure — no excuses, no bullshit.
  • When inspiration touches talent, she gives birth to truth and beauty.
  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
  • Yielding to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
  • Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
  • Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
  • Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
  • Often couples or close friends, even entire families, will enter into tacit compacts whereby each individual pledges (unconsciously) to remain mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have become so comfortable. The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.
  • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
  • The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed. Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.
  • The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one’s existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.
  • We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
  • The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
  • Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
  • Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
  • The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
  • The Principle of Priority
    • (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and
    • (b) you must do what’s important first.
  • The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.
  • The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them. The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.
  • When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. It takes tremendous strength of character to do this, because our deepest instincts run counter to it. Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.
  • The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.
  • The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.
  • The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego.
  • The artist is the servant of that intention, those angels, that Muse. The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold. That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.
  • Do it or don’t do it.
  • You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
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What Is a Professional?

I recently started reading Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” coincidentally around the same time I was learning more about Clausewitz and friction. Pressfield dedicates the first chapter of his book to “resistance.” Similar to the resistance detailed by Clausewitz, Pressfield describes “resistance” as the most toxic force on the planet and the force that makes all of us achieve less than we were born to be or achieve.

I intend on capturing many notes from “The War of Art” including Pressfield’s notes on Resistance but the subject that caught my eye the most today was his description of a professional. I personally have always felt that a professional is someone that doesn’t stop being whatever they are at the end of the day. Even when the professional finishes their work day, they still answer the phone when it rings with duty calling. Additionally, a professional’s job is never done because part of their job is continuously learning. Whether in response to their own personal desire to know more and do more in that profession, or because of the changing dynamics of that occupation, there is always something more to learn. However, Pressfield eloquently describes ten traits of a professional versus an amateur. In his words, here are the principles that professionals follow every day.

  1. We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.
  2. We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.
  3. We stay on the job all day. Our mind may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.
  4. We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.
  5. The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
  7. We do not overidentify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance love this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
  8. We master the techniques of our jobs.
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.
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Friction in War & Life

In “On War,” Clausewitz discusses friction extensively. The small difficulties experienced on the battlefield, Clausewitz successfully argued, cannot be entirely conceived. And while many of these difficulties are not that impactful on their own, combined with the myriad of other challenges one will likely face, even the easiest of tasks becomes challenging. One of the Laws of Combat espoused by Jocko Willink in “Extreme Ownership” is the concept of Simple.  However, simple does not imply easy. By relating the concepts of simple and friction, in War especially, plans, orders, actions must be kept simple because as Clausewitz states, “everything is very simple in War, but the simplest thing is difficult.” Such as in life.

War is an extreme example of these friction forces and their impact on the most extreme environment an individual can experience. But in life, we feel these frictions everyday. The small, compounding factors in our lives can easily take us to a place where it feels as though we cannot accomplish even the simplest of tasks. In “Essentialism” a major part of the challenge we all face in life is determining how we spend our limited time and who we invite into our lives. Unfortunately, Clausewitz also points out that “through the influence of an infinity of petty circumstances, which cannot properly be described on paper, things disappoint us, and we fall short of the mark.”

How do we overcome these frictions. Here Clausewitz also provides some suggestions. Here, a strong will and unwavering discipline can overcome friction, but at a cost. “A powerful iron will overcomes this friction; it crushes the obstacles, but certainly the machine along with them.” The effort expending to overcome the friction comes at a cost. Sometimes the cost of that effort results in accomplishing the mission or achieving your desired end state but with the complete destruction of the machine itself.

So how do we deal with the consequences of overcoming this friction? First, keep things simple. Second, get comfortable being uncomfortable. That means you will not and cannot know everything or plan for every conceivable contingency. Accept that the fate of chance will rear its ugly head and that you must deal with it. Finally, realize that reality and life are going to be the greatest teachers. Theory and study will only take you so far meaning that “War is movement in a resistant medium. Just as a man immersed in water is unable to perform with ease and regularity the most natural and simplest movement, that of walking, so in War, with ordinary powers, one cannot keep even the line of mediocrity. This is the reason that the correct theorist is like a swimming master, who teaches on dry land movements which are required in the water, which must appear grotesque and ludicrous to those who forget about the water.”

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Dreams and Success

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Henry David Thoreau

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