Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Fan of the Marine Corps model:


Some of them are painfully obvious, but these are sometimes absent when they shouldn't be.

(I also suspect this is what Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr either draw from, or coincide with.)

Following the links, I stumbled upon this amazing seeming resource:


The military are really very very good at man-management ...

This seems to be the impression in the business world, which has what I can only describe as a fetish for stories about the military, but Marines in particular have a very tough time adapting to life and careers outside the military.

It's fun to think of our businesses as just like a Seal team and try to glean lessons from stories of heroism, but the reality is if the military were in the business of making a profit, retaining employees, or pleasing customers, it would fail miserably.

The reality of the U.S military is far different than the impression that the leadership papers give you.

The US military is efficient at what it does, generally speaking - it is the product of a can't fail fighting force, and all the implications that come out of that.

As an enlisted infantry Marine who transitioned very easily into software engineering, I find my leadership training in the Marine Corps a distinct advantage I have over my peers. I have been called the best manager other engineers have ever had by multiple people, as well as called the best engineer many have worked with.

The only thing I wish is more people understood what true leadership looked like, and that is one thing I generally have missed from my time in the Marine Corps. The principles are probably some of the best set of general leadership principles you can find out there and they prove their worth day in, day out.

What's a "can't fail fighting force"? Military can certainly fail.

It's a mantra that the military use. Train, train, train and fail in training because you can't fail in the real fight. If you read "can't fail" as "can't afford to fail" rather than "failure is an impossibility" you'll get the intent.

A can't fail fighting force is one that comes back from the dead and orders their adversaries to please stick to the plan instead of winning: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Challenge_2002

> A can't fail fighting force is one that comes back from the dead and orders their adversaries to please stick to the plan instead of winning: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Challenge_2002

To set the record straight, Van Riper exploited deficiencies in the nature of the simulation itself as opposed to finding actual deficiencies in Navy doctrine.

For example, the small boat armada armed with missiles could never, in real life, physically support the missile systems used or even power the necessary controls. He used messengers on motorcycles that would effectively teleport from Point A to Point B, again an impossibility.

So the Navy hit reset on the exercise and asked him to please stick to reality instead of attempting to exploit the rules of the simulation.

As a hacker I have to chuckle at his exploits. As a taxpayer I'm a bit pissed that he not only wasted time and money, but then went on a media campaign to malign the folks running the event because he was angry he didn't get away with his clever hack.

Please stop spreading this as some sort-of "Look at how pitiful the military is!" stories. It is absolute bullshit.

Ok, then please point me to an authoritative source where this is described, because I can't just take your word for it.

> Ok, then please point me to an authoritative source where this is described

There is a brief Reddit thread with sources available[0]. The initial post sources DoD transcripts of a post-exercise interview[1], and although this doesn't go into the missile weight issue it directly mentions that active air defense was turned off on the real-world ships in the simulation and they were unrealistically geographically constrained due to rules about shipping channels as they were operating in active, crowded seas.

Regarding the issue of unrealistic missile weights, please read the "rebuttal"[2] and subsequent discussions regarding why the missile setup was unrealistic.

Note: At the time of writing, I freely admit I am unable to source a reliable entry on the motorcycle teleportation bit, so I may be mislead on the matter. I have to get back to work, but will provide more additional sources if and when I can find the time.

[0] - https://www.reddit.com/r/CredibleDefense/comments/4qfoiw/mil...

[1] - http://archive.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?Trans...

[2] - https://www.reddit.com/r/CredibleDefense/comments/4qfoiw/mil...

> because I can't just take your word for it.

I have to take a moment to point out that you have not provided an authoritative reference for your claims. The Wikipedia entry itself merely cites newspapers quoting Van Ripper, and doesn't even mention criticisms which seems rather suspect. In fact, there is a giant warning at the top of the article stating that the neutrality is suspect.

Thanks for the references.

The non-reddit reference you have provided points to a transcript from 1999, it looks like it's an incorrect link.

I couldn't examine the reference mentioned in the reddit post either, since the web page doesn't open, but there seems to be some disagreement on reddit regarding the topic itself.

Newspapers quoting van Ripper are one of the best sources we have access to, unless the military published an official account.

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with you here (nor have I ever been military in any remote respect), but there are some overlapping truths in that page, e.g. "Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities", under "Develop", points 1, 3, & 4.

I've resigned over unrealistic expectations from leadership about deadlines, and what was to be asked of my team to complete said deadlines. I would do it again. I'm sure I've had many many many failings as a manager, but I will not death-march any team under me with zero chance of success. There are several others in the GP's post. You are correct, they don't all apply and many may be harmful in a corporate environment, but that's why you get paid to separate the wheat from the chaff, right? :)

>I've resigned over unrealistic expectations from leadership about deadlines, (...)

This sets great example. Thank you.

Do you know what the outcome was for a team you resigned from?

The project went several months over the proposed "schedule", which was inevitable, and I had told them as much.

The team was not asked to pull any overtime to complete it in the proposed time frame.

I took a 6 month sabbatical and then was asked to contract for them remotely as a developer (instead of manager) which I did for several years after that.

So, wins all around, I suppose.

Yeah but if making money was the same as charging a machine gun nest then the military model would be top notch.

Military leadership has the extra ace up its sleeve that all the people reporting to you are bound by law to do what you command.

Leading Civvies is like herding cats by comparison.

The sort of manager who fetishizes military leaders would gladly order their employees to charge a machine gun nest if it improved their own bonus

I remember hearing Stanley McCrystal or someone comment on the misconceptions between the Army and civilian world. The quote was along the lines of:

"In the civilian world, you think that in the Army you can just order someone to do what you want. In the Army, you think you can sack whoever you choose in the Civilian world."

> but Marines, in particular, have a very tough time adapting to life and careers outside the military.

I'm curious why you have that impression. I spent 6 years in the Marine Corps Infantry and I've found it super helpful now 6 years into my career as a software developer. Specifically, because of the leadership style you learn.

The only thing I'd say it made it more difficult to adapt to was college where I had to interact with a bunch of kids with no life experience and lots of strong opinions about how the world does and should work.

Curious, were you much older than the other students in college?

I served for 6 years so I was 24 when they were 18.

> the reality is if the military were in the business of making a profit, retaining employees, or pleasing customers, it would fail miserably.

Is that because of management issues or because of the intrinsic issues that come from being in the business of killing people to gain land, resources, power, or whatever?

As a former Marine, I can say it's a bit of both.

Obviously, the job is stressful all in itself. While I did not go to combat myself, I have lost friends, I've delivered flags to families of Marines who fell in combat, and have also just had a lot of beers with friends who could not cope with some of the actions that they had to endure in combat.

Secondly, management is certainly an issue like any other company. I won't go in lots of details here, but for half of my enlistment, I loved my leadership as they pushed me hard and helped me grow. They very clearly wanted to make me a better Marine and person. They were as close as family to me. They were very balanced. They knew when to be be hard, and when not to be. On the other hand, for the second half, It was the complete opposite and my time was miserable.

I experienced similar things in the private industry, only with much less physical labor. :)

They're linked. When you are managing people who can legally be put in jail or shot for not following orders, the dynamic is quite different.

Especially in the case of Marines, if you have a very well defined objective that requires brute force to solve, that's the ideal situation for them and they'll do amazing things. Anything that's a gray area, not covered by rules, or that requires creativity or questioning authority... It's not going to end in a good result.

I can't count the number of times Marine officers did ridiculously inefficient or plain stupid things because an authority figure or regulation said so. Usually the justification was, "the rules are there for a reason," or something similar. Whole that might be true, the idea that someone in authority can, in advance, create a set of rules that we can blindly follow to a successful outcome is insane for all but the most desperate situations.

Most of the military was like that to some extent.

> the idea that someone in authority can, in advance, create a set of rules that we can blindly follow to a successful outcome is insane for all but the most desperate situations.

I can think of two redeeming qualities for such sets of rules, if applied and understood correctly:

1. Eliminating indecision. If figuring out what to do is too difficult (or none of the options are better than others), you have a somewhat sane defaults to fall back to. Indecision has costs too.

2. Making things more predictable upstream. Authorities may make up some rules that may not be most effective when applied by the bottom line, but they normalize the entire bottom line, making it easier to manage. This is similar to what we do with frameworks in software - we trade efficiency and flexibility for consistency, in order to build an abstraction layer that's less complex to work with. Misapplied, this of course leads to tragic/comical examples, both in organizations and in software (e.g. Electron).

> the reality is if the military were in the business of making a profit, retaining employees, or pleasing customers, it would fail miserably

You could argue that this has in fact been the reality of late...

This is the version for UK Army Officers in book form: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Serve_to_Lead.html?id...

The military, from my experience, is a big burocratic organisation with generally substandard management culture.

I believe the idea is more so to grasp at the underlying philosophies behind what is taught as an ideal to, say, infantry leadership, as opposed to merely copying bureaucratic institutions and styles. The US military is a first-rate logistics and fighting force with a lot of hard-won lessons, wisdom that is sometimes even written in blood.

At the end of the day, it's really just a good place to start thinking. You'll find great bits, and parts that are completely irrelevant to a civilian workplace. After all, it's not as if I can smoke my team when they fail to meet a deadline or engage in some "physical correction."

As opposed to most startups, which are tiny, unreliable organizations with a generally substandard management culture?

Bad management is everywhere.

Being able to do even a mediocre job at the scale of a major military is still not entirely unimpressive.

There may be tons of examples of substandard bureaucracy in the military, but that shouldn't detract from the smattering of great leaders within the ranks. Some of the best advice I've ever been given for surviving adult life was advice my father cribbed from officer training in the army.

Management is easy when your employees have to go to prison for not obeying you and you can exact non-judicial punishment any time ou want.

Not true. First, disobedience rarely results in jail. There are many intermediate forms of punishment. For example, losing rank, salary privileges, formal write ups, extra work responsibilities, etc.

Also leaders tend to keep each other in check and are constantly being reviewed. If you're a bad leader in the military it is typically immediately apparent and gets changed at some point. Additionally, leaders are also in turn managed by other leaders.

You're also not guaranteed promoted just because of your time-in-grade, especially not for higher ranks (e.g. E-5 and above). You also can't just transfer into the military with a high rank, meaning you have to work earn it and work your way up. It's not a full-proof system of course, but it does a great job. If you forced me to call out one exception, I would consider the officer path to be a shortcut to leadership, though they are typically required to go to college and extra training. But clearly, they don't have the military time-in-grade. But you're day-to-day is not really ran by officers, so it's not quite as relevant. (I'm speaking for the Marine Corps leadership as that's all I know first-hand.)

'Painfully obvious' can sometimes completely non-obvious when you're in an environment where bad habits, political bs, and other human weirdness dominate the patterns of interaction. This is true for most organizations.

Very true!

It is difficult to understand what Good looks like until you experience it first-hand.

Afterwards, Good is as obvious as water.

Unfortunately, Good requires infrastructure, both physical and cultural, that most organizations lack.

It is also exceedingly difficult to parachute into an organization and introduce Good, as that change threatens the balance of political power. People will strongly oppose Good because it means that their jobs will change, and change is -- very honestly speaking! -- scary as hell.

Absolutely all true.

> Afterwards, Good is as obvious as water.

I wish there were a magical way to give everyone a first job in a well-run org. I think the average corporate insanity quotient would noticeably drop if people knew what they were missing.

I found my first job at a well-run firm in my late 20s, and consider myself lucky. But I also spent a bunch of really crappy time putting up with things I didn't know I didn't have to put up with before that.

Along those lines, I highly recommend "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Especially the audiobook, as it is narrated by the authors.

In each chapter one of the authors tells a first person account of leadership on the battlefield, then they go on to relate that to business leadership with specific examples from their business consultations. Very engaging, and I think the leadership lessons they teach spot-on.


Military organizations have been studying how to lead people under a variety of conditions since effectively the dawn of time.

Many people make the mistake of fetishizing military leadership, but I absolutely thing there is a lot to be learned by studying the techniques of the organizations that have been building leadership skills the longest.

I talked a bit about this https://adamdrake.com/command-and-control.html and some of the misunderstandings that companies have when it comes to leading people.

You should really check out Simon Senik's new book [Leaders Eat Last](https://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Eat-Last-Together-Others/dp/1...).

It's essentially Marine Corp leadership philosophy distilled fitted to business scenarios.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact