Invading Countries;Seizing Markets.

Start ups seize markets much as military invasions seize territory.  Once markets are acquired, like territory, they have to be governed and this requires new types of people.

First ashore are the special forces who are highly creative, operate informally, and follow very little process. They are multi-talented and do everything important really well and leave unimportant things undone. Individually, they impress and have the power of persuasion over others.  People like them and like being around them. They are all about new things, indeed so much so that they are not even doing these new things; they are looking for the next new thing to do. These are the founder-entrepreneurs.

Next ashore are the Marines. They are flexible like special forces but they have structure and access to more resources. Left alone they instinctively move forward. Defence and consolidation are for others.  Individually, they are also charismatic and persuasive but their collective style is aggressive and acquisitive. You need to intervene to stop them expanding. They get on just fine with special forces whose style and skills they emulate.

Then come the infantry who are good, solid dependable guys whose instinct is to consolidate. An infantry unit with no higher instructions will first make a secure base, but thus be a self-consumer of much of its own security. They can attack but it is a big deal. They only do it as part of a bigger plan and with access to those assets they want but do not have.  They are dogged, determined and not risk averse as such, but they avoid the risks that arise from lightly resourced, on-the-fly initiatives that marines and special forces thrive on. They admire the special forces who are seen as being an elite in their own field but infantry commanders grumble about the independence accorded to the special forces operating in their areas and want to be ‘looped in’ on what they are doing. Special forces respond with selective disclosure but to only those infantry commanders they trust.  Special forces start to feel constrained, misunderstood and are wary of the local command structures and their processes.

Next to arrive are the police who represent middle management. They arrive to operate the secured areas and their first priority is to create processes which quickly become rules and which they then make sure everyone follows. The police have no interest in expanding or doing anything new, since running what they have is hard enough. No matter how great the collective reward from breaking the rules; the law is the law. So eg a special forces guy ‘borrowing’ something he needs for behind the lines operations, is arrested. To be clear, policeman are vital people but they exist to prevent rule breaking and thus prevention is the essence of their culture. Most certainly once companies get to a certain size they need rules and therefore the police, to keep things orderly and compliant.

But here is the problem: the police and the special forces do not get along. Everything the police value such as following process, formality, consistency of behaviour, are the very things the special forces pride themselves for working around. The special forces are trusted so they have fewer internal rules and do not need (and largely ignore) the rule-set created for the mainstream.  Furthermore, as a strategic asset special forces are used to reporting direct to the boss, which annoys the police and eventually everyone else.

So, the analogy suggests do not expect the special forces to stick around and work in areas where the police have authority. Their two cultures are just too different. Either the special forces need to leave the secured area or be allowed to work outside the formal structures doing what they are good at ie new things. Likewise, do not expect entrepreneurs to hang around in big companies, or even in their own company, once it gets to a certain size. They either need to sell, leave or be given a new role.

Author’s note

This analogy is originally not my idea. I read it in a book I read about 20 years ago and cannot now find the reference. It was written by a US Marine.  If anyone knows who it is, I will instantly credit the author.

Posted in SME.

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