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.

Start-up Nation

It takes a special mindset to volunteer to join the military in times of war. To leave the comforts of home, to leave family and friends, to go into harm’s way in far off foreign lands creates a complex mindset. It takes a certain mindset to brave the dangers of combat, to go outside the wire and engage the enemy on their grounds.

What is it, ultimately, that makes veterans different from civilians? I have been interested in this question since 1994 – my first recruiting tour of duty. Why did some people sign on the dotted line for four years or more, and some not? What was the unmoved mover that prompted the best and brightest of America’s youth to raise their right hand and take a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution? Over 6 years and two recruiting tours of duty, I never could put my finger on it. It remains a mystery to me, even now.

But there is a difference, and we are here tonight to celebrate that difference. It takes a special mindset to transition from a combat and military environment to a civilian business and entrepreneurial environment.

I just read a book entitled Mindset by Carol Dweck, a psychologist who studies success. In her book, she posits two fundamental mindsets, Growth vs Fixed. Growth mindsets have a tendency to learn experientially, a willingness to take on new challenges and explore new opportunities, and maybe most importantly, a proclivity for hard work. In other words, qualities we most often associate with successful entrepreneurship.

A body of academic research exists about why veterans the world over tend to be successful entrepreneurs. In the book Start-up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer explore the factors contributing to the entrepreneurial success of Israel, on a per capita basis, the most entrepreneurial country in the world. They assert one of the key reasons is Israel’s compulsory universal military service, which creates a common language and mindset for mission accomplishment and – once again – hard work.

There is something to this veteran-entrepreneur relationship. Here in CT, we have a population of approximately 235,000+ veterans; but more than 50,000 veteran-owned businesses, a better than 1-in-5 ratio.

Today, as I speak, the unemployment rate among disabled veterans is 25%, in some states as high as 30%.  Approximately 2.6 million Americans have served in the military since 9/11. Of that number, about 2.2 million have served in combat theaters in Iraq or Afghanistan. If 1-in-5 of those veterans started businesses – our nation would create nearly 500,000 start-ups.

We veteran-entrepreneurs, with our different mindset, with our extraordinary experiences overseas, with our Growth mindset – we are part of the solution to the present economic situation.

Let’s break it down.  2,500,000 veterans. 50 states. 10 years. 500,000 start-ups.  Basically, we’re talking about every state starting 1,000 veteran and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses for the next decade. 50,000 a year for the next 10 years.  This is eminently doable.

We can create a start-up state, and a start-up nation.

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.


UConnEBV Social Media Frenzy – We’re on Twitter!

A Social Media Neophyte Learns to Love Google+

I found this article by John Warrilow at BNet the Interactive Business Network

This is an interesting comparison between Facebook and Google+. Google is getting into the social media game, with a business focus.

Please take a look at this article. Maybe you'll find Google+ fits your social media needs as a start-up vetrepreneur.

And while you're at it – sign up to follow us on Twitter @UConnEBV