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  • E.M. Burlingame - 蒲 奕 言

You’re not going to like this | Special Forces and Entrepreneurship

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

You’re not as valuable as you think you are. Read that correctly. To be fair though, no one is. Evolution optimized us for propagation of species, not for self-assessment. Not even the most critical assessment, that of our value to individuals and the group. To ensure we participate in as many gene transfer opportunities as possible. Evolutionary mechanisms in the brain actively keep us oblivious to our actual value, make us conflate our value. So what? If evolution, with billions of years accumulated wisdom, built lying to ourselves about our value into the deepest circuits of the brain. Why does it matter? Competition.


U.S. special forces spent three weeks trying to breach and scale the models in San Diego, using jackhammers, torches and other tools, and climbing devices. (Image courtesy of AFP and YouTube)

The world we live in is increasingly competitive. No longer are we competing locally among a peer group within our community. Globalization requires we now compete internationally, against a vastly larger community of skilled and capable individuals. Doesn’t matter if it’s for gene propagation events, mates, employment opportunities, investment dollars, brand and product recognition, key contracts, key hires or the millions more things for which humans compete. With a marketplace ever more global and ever more connected. Requirement to be competitive is increasing dramatically.


Competition is also no longer limited to between humans. While not yet competing against machines and machine intelligence directly. At least not outside narrowly defined domains. We’re most certainly competing against humans greatly enhanced by augmented intelligence. Individuals with skills and capacities improved by understanding and integrating with machines and machine intelligence. While globalization is increasing volume of competition. Developments in augmented intelligence are making competition ever faster paced and capable.


This makes competitiveness impossible with yesterday’s knowledge. Keeping up with the level and pace of competition requires very most current information, skills, knowledge and network. Mastering old or even recent knowledge and skills is no longer enough. We must stay ahead of the curve to be of value. Additional to information and skill attainment, there are many things we must do to be more competitive. Such as those put forward by Emma Victoria. Five points, very closely match individual career progression models and practices proven by Special Forces over the past seventy plus years.


1-     Improve your language skills: In today’s ever more connected world of diverse populations, secondary language skills allow for greater market and opportunity access. As well as for stronger team building and leadership.


2-     Get cross-cultural experience: Understanding a people is not as simple as learning their language. To truly understand the language and its people, one must also immerse themselves in the culture of the people the language is a symbolic representation of.


3-     Complete further education: A college degree or trade certification are no longer enough. Competitiveness increasingly means knowing and understanding more than your many competitors, across a broad spectrum of domains, not only your own.


4-     Network, network, network: More important than language and cultural abilities. More important than education and knowledge. The power of your network far more powerfully impacts your competitiveness.


5-     Get relevant work experience: As one of my mentors told me many years ago. Experience trumps everything but a strong network. And well, you can’t build a strong network except in the course of gaining experience.

Most critical skill you can develop however, is your ability to truthfully assess value. Beginning with your own and expanding out to your team, group, organization, business ecosystem, ad infinitum. This is because we can’t improve or correctly express our value unless we know what it is. More precisely, unless we know what it isn’t. This holds equally true in high paced, high Risk and Uncertainty, ultra-competitive, zero-fail environments of Special Forces and startups. Particularly, when pitching yourself, your plan, your venture, to others whose buy in and approval your success depends upon.


Understanding and improving our value is no easy task. This because, cognitive processes embedded over millions of years of evolution, make seeing the ‘Truth’ about ourselves difficult at best. Cognitive Biases are constantly blinding us to self, deluding us into believing we’re of greater value than we are. Knowing our value at any given point and across time, is an exceedingly hard task when everything is changing rapidly and nothing less than nature, is at all times seeking to protect our fragile psyche from Cognitive Dissonance.


Following are a few guiding principles have helped me over the years, in seeking to know and improve my own value and competitiveness:


-         Be a competitor | If you’re not embracing your competitive nature, even if it means nothing more than competing with yourself of yesterday. Then you really don’t have much value at all. Because there’s no other way to develop and prove value than to compete.


-         Take and accept assessment | Even most talented and gifted individuals in the world require coaching and mentoring. In not only a single, but across many aspects of their profession. Any endeavour of real value improvement requires the same.


-         Learn from everything | More often than not, our value is derived from having seen and understood what others have not. This means, to improve our value, we must each learn from absolutely everything, at every moment, every single day.  


-         Get over yourself | Used to keep a piece of paper in my pocket. On it was written, “You’re a useless piece of S#@&.” Whenever I’d find myself not competing, believing I was of sufficient value. Would pull this out of my pocket to remind myself I must continue to compete and learn.


-         Pursue impossible goals | When it comes to being truly competitive, to developing real value, enough is not enough. In fact, enough is opposite of what’s required. It takes goals and ambitions one might never accomplish in a single life. To create of ourselves real value.


There’s one further principle has guided my own path to value, an Alpha-based Leadership Principle. Never be ashamed of being better at something than others are. But don’t be proud. Nature built us as competitors for gene propagating opportunities. Wiring into the oldest and deepest parts of our brain and psyche, the understanding that only way to be of value is to be a contender. Being better than others with talent, knowledge and capacity developed continually through hard effort, increasing personal value. Is the purpose of our lives!


However, there’s a secret to maximal personal value. As you develop increasing value, to self, individuals and the group. Mentor and help others in their competitions to being more than they are. Because, in the end of a life, our value is determined most by how many others we helped be competitive along their own journey to value.    




E.M. Burlingame:  Founder Emerio Group and the Honos Foundation | Author of Starving for Leadership and As Rome Burns


Actively engaged, leveraging diverse experience and skills developed during 30 years in technology, entrepreneurship, startup investing and Special Operations, to identify and develop the next generation of startup leaders globally.

#leadership #specialforces #startups

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