The War to End all Wars?…Or is War a Good Analogy for Business?

I was reflecting on the juxtaposition of the recent and rare palindromic Veteran’s Day 11-11-11, and the origin of that day, known as Armistice Day. On that day – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – hostilities in the First World War ended. The war was so brutal and costly that the day became a holiday in many countries around the world. It was also known as Remembrance Day.

We are presently working on creating a reading list for this website for veterans. I conceived of the idea from several sources. First, my experience in my Marine Corps career. Regular professional reading was an ongoing requirement. This is a link to the Commandant’s Reading List. Second, on my Linked-in account, there is space for books and book recommendations. Third, and finally, from a series for entrepreneurial education by the Kauffman Foundation called the Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

One of the foundational skills around which we plan our curriculum at the UConn Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities is business communications. I believe the entrepreneur’s ability to communicate precisely his/her plan to create value via a commercialization plan, a formal business plan, a 30-second elevator pitch, a 30-second youtube commercial, via social media or via a $50 advertisement in a local newspaper, or a 1-minute brief to an angel investor is the single most crucial skill. The ability to sell your value idea to everyone in the value landscape – customers, vendors, suppliers, investors, creditors, competitors – is the decisive competitive advantage for the entrepreneur. All things being equal, that is how one start-up distinguishes itself from every other start-up. The ability to communicate with the marketplace will make or break a start-up.

This recent article in INC Magazine Is War a Good Analogy for Business struck me as a profound misunderstanding of what Sun Tzu wrote in his timeless classic The Art of War. Sun Tzu believed that war was a failure of politics, that is, a failure of political communication to reach rational compromise. Rather, Sun Tzu believed in winning without fighting; he considered that the greatest accomplishment of the general. Less than victory without fighting was failure. Failure was the result of the general’s inability to correctly account for the five knowledges necessary to achieve victory: knowledge of self, knowledge of the enemy, knowledge of the people (nation), knowledge of the army, and knowledge of the terrain and weather. Anyone with military experience reading this will recognize the similarity to the acronym METT-TSL: Mission, Enemy, Troops, Terrain/weather – Time, Space, Logistics.

Master Sun understood one simple, ineluctable and timeless truth: wars are expensive. Wars cost money, and to quote the master “Avoid long wars. They deplete the treasury and exhaust the nation.” To offer a quote from a famous movie “I don’t like blood. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.”

Currently, a brief sojourn through popular literature and television show dozens of examples of endeavors now considered wars. There numerous reality tv shows, including Parking Wars, Cupcake Wars, Storage Wars, Food Wars, Insect Wars, and Whisker Wars, to name just a few. I submit that the current fascination with and mis-use of the concept of “war” as entertainment may be a pop cultural reason for the decline of entrepreneurship and value creation in this country. After a decade of two wars, people would rather be entertained by the spectacle of war, rather than create value. But this is Sun Tzu’s point – war is a failure to communicate. These reality tv shows create drama for entertainment purposes not from people communicating and compromising to work and live together – but rather from confrontation and zero-sum, winner-take-all destruction of the other. This is exactly what Sun Tzu meant when he wrote: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it. Perhaps the past decade of two wars has created an idea of war as entertainment, as spectacle, and desensitized our national consciousness to the pain and suffering and the true cost of war?

So as our nation just celebrated its 10th Veteran’s Day while at war, those of us who aspire to become entrepreneurs would do well to heed Sun Tzu’s observation: Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

War destroys value; entrepreneurship creates value.

Wanted: A Good Job and Some Understanding? I’m not so sure…

Four articles caught my attention this past few days. The first was titled Army Sgt Born in CT killed in Afghanistan. Sgt Edward J. Frank, 26, of Hartford CT made the final measure of devotion this past weekend when he was killed by an IED. Sgt Frank was on his third combat tour, two in Iraq, and this third in Afghanistan. He leaves behind a wife and three young children.  May he Rest in Peace, and his family’s grief be assuaged. Unfortunately, he is not the only son of Connecticut to die in Afghanistan this month, as Chief Petty Officer Brian Bill, 31 and a Navy SEAL, of Stamford CT, was also killed in Afghanistan.

The second was an editorial in the NY Times by Jonathan Raab of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The editorial, Wanted: a Good Job and Some Understanding ends with a plaintive “Everybody wants to support the troops until they have to  share in the hardship and sacrifice,” I said. “Then all of a sudden that bumper sticker or that flag pin doesn’t mean anything anymore.”  I agree with the sentiment in general, but I have more to say. Look at the current politics – there is almost no talk about the wars, or about the effects they are having on the people fighting them, or their families, or society at large. Veteran unemployment in general is 5% higher than the civilian population; for disabled veterans it is twice, and in some states, three times as high as the general civilian population. In economic times like these – its every man for himself. People are worried about putting food on their own table, and about paying their own rent or mortgage. Unless they’re veterans or related to veterans – they’ve got other things to worry about. I submit we should not be looking for understanding from civilians – we should be looking to understand civilians, in the same way we tried to understand Iraqis or Afghans when we were deployed. In other words – civilians aren’t going to change. We’re not going to change them. We can win them over, we can overcome their fear and prejudices, just as we did with the civilian populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have an advantage – no one is killing them or their families on a daily basis.

The third article was in the Connecticut Post and was entitled Returning Veterans Face Struggles Returning to the Home Front. The article talks about veterans experiences in CT returning to a civilian environment, and the trials and tribulations thereof. The theme emerges, as quoted by Joy Kiss, founder of the homeless veteran shelter Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport CT – “The returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans are becoming homeless quicker than the Vietnam era veterans. They’re coming back to jobs they had, but they’re coming back different so they lose those jobs. And then, as a result of the loss of the job, they lose their homes. And then on top of the stress of combat, they may lose their marriages, they may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with whatever demons they’re living with. You just get layer after layer after layer.”

And last, this article More Homeless Female Veterans in NC, SC posted in the CT Post.The article quotes a female veteran who says she thought her work experience in the military would help her land a job “but instead potential employers seemed to dismiss her as a serious candidate.”

The message I take away is “We’re different.” And these articles, attempting to chronicle what its like to be a returning vet, actually entrenches that. And we are different. In fact, we’re special. We’re doers. We’re people who make things happen. Who accomplish missions under the most dire and difficult of circumstances. We’re people who negotiated with sheikhs and village elders and ran towns and districts and built bridges and energy grids. We’re not people who complained about not being understood or about being given a job. We went out and did what we did. That’s what we do. We don’t need civilians to understand us – we need to understand them!  Developing working relationships, doing economic development projects, accomplishing missions – these are all things we can do – whether its in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Connecticut.

With all due respect to the various authors of the articles, We don’t need civilians to understand us or give us a job.



How Does Your State Rank for Entrepreneurship???

Recently, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln published a short (4 pages! – and one is a thank you page! ) report on the state of entrepreneurship in the United States.

The report measured five variables to which they assigned an index value of 1.00, and measured a statistical variation from 1.00 to rank the states.

The five variables were

     1) percent growth in new establishments

     2) percent growth in new establishments per capita

     3) business formation rate

     4) patents per thousand residents

     5) gross receipts of sole proprietorships and partnerships per capita


If At First You Don’t Succeed…

At the Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, we are completely, 100% committed to giving veterans every opportunity and all the tools to be successful entrepreneurs. We’re really rooting for everyone to be immensely and wildly successful! But it doesn’t always work that way, unfortunately.

And that’s ok.

I posted an earlier blog that I titled How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. But the cold hard truth is, most entrepreneurs fail first, fail early, and fail often.

Thomas Edison famously said about his invention of the light-bulb “I discovered 9,999 ways not to make a light bulb.”

Hank Aaron once said, when asked about his home-run hitting prowess, that he really only hit a home run once out of every 20 at-bats, and he considered his success more a function of health and longevity than anything else (he played full-time for 24 years). For those of you who are baseball fans, they say you can make a career and get into the Hall of Fame by failing 7 out of every 10 at bats – thats a .300 batting average.

Here’s a link to an article called Thirteen Business Leaders Who Failed Before They Succeeded. It’s about 13 famous and wildly successful entrepreneurs who failed miserably before they succeeded. Several went bankrupt. My favorite is Colonel Sanders – of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame – whose famous recipe was rejected more than 1,000 times before he started his business – after the age of 65 – when most people want to retire.


Toby Keith Virginia Beach “American Warrior”-

I am a member of, and on the board of directors of, Semper Max. Semper Max was started by Tim Maxwell, a severely wounded Marine. He started the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment while he was recovering on active duty. When he retired, he attended the EBV program at Texas A&M. He recently sent me this link

This is the link to Semper Max

Matt Bradford, Cpl., USMC, is in a show given by country singer Toby Keith. Matt was severely wounded in Iraq. He Lost both of his legs, and he is completely blind. Despite his conditions, Matt reenlisted in the USMC, and currently (2011) is on the staff at the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East. Check it out!

SDVOB and VOB Certification

On Monday, the 25th of July, the Dept of Veterans Affairs published a study entitled Audit of Veteran-owned and Service-Disabled Veteran-owned Small Business Programs.

The findings are simply stunning. The VA awards more than 1,400 contracts for more than $500 million annually. According to the study, which reviewed contract awards for FY 2010 – 76% (32 out of 42) of contrators were ineligible for the contract that they were awarded.

Here is an article in the May-June issue of VetLikeMe, a national news publication for Service-Disabled Veteran-owned businesses, which tells the story of a “entrepreneur” who fraudulently obtained $16 million in contracts from the Veterans Administration. He faces up to 75 years in prison and more than $3 million in fines.

There are a couple of places to make sure your business is registered.

The VA has a portal called VetBiz where you can register your business as a Service-Disabled Veteran-owned business. The process is designed to be simple and doable. Once certified, you can put the certification stamp on your website, business cards, promotional literature, website, etc. Given the two factoids aforementioned – this is crucial! In business parlance, it is known as a “Strategic Differentiator.”

The second portal is the Central Contractor Registry. Every single federal contractor – anyone who does business with the federal government – can be found here. You can’t get a federal contract without being registered. It takes about an hour to complete the registration – it may well be the most profitable hour in the history of your business!

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying in the 21st Century

How to Start a Small Business in Just One Day

I found this article on the BNet Interactive Business Network by Jeff Haden. Again, he writes simple truth with flair. But I look at his articles through the lens of a disabled veteran starting a business.

There are a lot of things to do to start a business. But there are a few simple tasks that actually start the business. This is a quick list that helps you cut through the clutter, prioritize your task list, and take the first step.

and make sure you register your business as a Service-disabled, Veteran-owned Business! If you're a woman, or a minority, or your business is in a HUB zone – make sure you get it registered that way!