In the entirety of “Section 1 - The Science,” we discussed the nature of the universe, its laws and how they set the fundamental conditions of how literally everything functions. We discussed the complex applications that these laws produce, and how life came to exist as a consequence. We discussed humanity's existence, how we perceive the environment around us, and how the limitations of our brains in-turn limit the extent of this perception and impact how its shapes our actions. Finally, we tied it all together, in how the study of military theories, principles, and tenets can be applied to the business sector as a direct result of the nature of our brain functions shaping our perceptions and our actions.
In “Chapter 2.0 - On Violence,” we discussed what drives us to use violence. That violence is merely a tool. That the causes of violence (predation, domination, revenge, sadism, and ideology) have evolutionary roots that make violence an intractable characteristic of homo sapiens; regardless of our recent development as a domesticated species.
In “Chapter 2.1 - Psychology and Physiology of Combat,” we discussed how our bodies drive us to use violence. When confronted by violence, or choosing to initiate it, we learned how a person reacts to the situation. How their body prepares to do what is necessary to survive the engagement, and how the stress of combat causes illogical and perplexing responses.
Why should we take into account the nature and impact that violence has had on our species in the previous two chapters? How can we leverage that understanding to be better in our endeavors, be it in combat or business, through training? And how can leaders use this understanding to shape the actions of those that follow them? I will answer these before the end of this chapter.
The timeline of our development as a species is contentious, but for the purpose of our discussion our common ancestor, Homo Erectus, developed human-like ways of thinking 1.8 million years ago. Not just using tools, but altering them in such a way that displays creativity in thought and in the ability to alter the environment to better suit their needs. Our ancestors were already using tools like sticks and stones, but 1.8 million years ago they figured out that they could alter those existing sticks and stones to have sharpened edges and points for cutting and stabbing. They no longer had to find a naturally occurring sharpened stone or stick. This creativity provided advantages and those advantages were further developed over hundreds of thousands of years.
200,000 to 300,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens became our own thing - alongside our Neanderthal and Denisovan cousins - we developed larger frontal cortices for more complex social activities. About 11,000 years ago, we developed such complex social connections that we could construct large earthen-work structures - showing the capacity for long-term group projects. About 5,500 years ago, humans began learning to write, so information could be passed onto future generations without the need for other humans to provide lessons through oration. Agriculture, commerce and trade, domestication of animals, and discoveries of the natural world propelled our species into great societal development. Clans, tribes, chiefdoms, cities, kingdoms, states, nations, empires, and international orders are all a relatively new social construct of humanity. 11,000 years of mostly violent and brutal domestication, preceded by more than 1.8 million years of our own ancestors manipulating tools to survive in an unforgiving environment all the while combating environmental hazards, wildlife, and each other for scarce resources. Just because we now wear suits, live in air-conditioned homes, can have instantaneous communication with people all around the globe, and engage in space travel doesn’t mean that we have erased the genetic shaping of 90,000 generations of our direct ancestors. Ancestors who did what they had to do to survive, ultimately culminating in your existence today. You, as am I, are a product of our ancestors engaging in many endeavors we would now consider savage and horrid, but were necessary for their continued existence. Present humans are not a fresh slate of lessons learned about peace, cooperation, and scientific curiosity, but what we are now is only the result of recent advantageous adaptations built upon a framework of survival.
Why should you study violence, and why can studying it help you in business or in any endeavor for that matter?
Because your existence is predicated on your genome having survived brutal environments, and violence plays a major part in that survival. By understanding the nature of violence, and how its related stressors impact your psychology and physiology, you can take control of this predisposition. You can employ it effectively when it grants you an advantage, and you can intervene when it poses a threat to your ultimate goals. Additionally, you as a leader, coach, and mentor can harness this predisposition in your people to help them achieve their goals and meet organizational objectives. One of the best adaptations that evolution has provided us is a brain able to critically assess itself. So we take a deep dive into our own violent nature that is ever-present, even if only suppressed for our own good. But how can we critically analyze this predisposition and employ it? Well, that is through training ourselves as individuals and leading others through training.
I think everyone has at least a contextual understanding of what training is, but some may be best familiar with its Pavlovian sibling, conditioning. To carry on with this chapter, I will lay out the definitions of these two terms, or at least the definition I intend to imply when I use them – as most words in a language can have multiple definitions. The following definitions come from the New Oxford dictionary.
- To teach a person a skill or type of behavior through practice in instruction over a period of time.
- To be taught to practice instruction.
- To cause to be sharp, discerning, or developed as a result of instruction or practice.
- To train or accustom someone to behave in a certain way or to accept certain circumstances.
To restate these definitions and to ensure we are on the same page: training is the act of teaching or improving the skills and capabilities of yourself or others through repetitious and practical exercises, while conditioning is the compulsive and sometimes automatic behavior that can result from stringent training.
Training is a new cook learning the recipe by following the instructions, measuring out the ingredients to specifications, and tasting the dish continuously to ensure everything is right. Conditioning is the head chef whipping up the dish from memory without having to follow instructions, being able to throw ingredients into the pot without having to do measurements, and being able to determine that the recipe is consistent with other senses like smell and the feel of the mixture underneath their spoon or spatula.
Training is a new driver reading the driver’s manual to understand local traffic laws, looking in every direction for oncoming traffic and distracted drivers, and ensuring that every single sign and light is followed on their trip to their destination. Conditioning is a person that has discovered that they have been driving for the last 30 minutes on auto-pilot and have made it home or to work alive and they don’t remember any of it.
Training is a machine gun crew understanding that they are one of the most lethal weapon systems on the battlefield, that the weapon needs to constantly be manned to provide cover for friendlies, and that to ensure it is constantly manned how to change out gunners as quickly as possible. Conditioning is a skilled gunner, after having been shot in the head and will die immediately, still taps their buddy on the shoulder and then throws their own body to the side, away from the gun, so that their buddy can then immediately jump on it to man the weapon and get it back into the fight. More on this specific story later in the topic on the “final act of a dying man.”
If you look back on our discussions in “1.4 The Human Domain,” we used a similar chef and driver analogy when discussing how the human brain makes the best use of its limited capacity. That the unskilled brain employs many more neurons, many more activations within the brain, to do the same task as the skilled brain. The skilled brain, through successful repetition of a task, has determined which neuronal pathways are needed to successfully accomplish a task that is deemed necessary. Each repetition strengthens the correct pathways while the others are allowed to weaken. This is training, at least when it comes to the brain.
As a tangent, physical training adds an additional element - building muscle strength, cardiovascular health, flexibility, and improving one’s metabolism. Straining muscle fibers, breaking them down, and rebuilding them- increases muscle density and strength. Through aerobic exercise, the body improves oxygen delivery throughout the body by increasing the red blood cell count and volume in vascular capacity to increase flow. Through stretching, we work out muscles and ligaments through their full range of motion and extremes. Through constant energy-intensive activities, the brain assesses that our lifestyle requires a much more extensive expenditure of energy and increases metabolic processes to help keep up with the demand. That being said, most of the training is geared towards improving neuronal pathways.
From constant training, we can learn how to move and position our bodies. Martial arts and combatives train the mind on how to react to certain stimuli, what moves to perform to get out of a grapple, and how to best deliver a powerful strike while not exposing yourself. It becomes almost instinctual in how you take down an adversary, draw your weapon, aim your rifle, and wield it all in a safe manner.
From constant training, we are able to visually discern the important bits of data from the noise. We learn how to identify objects in a chaotic environment. We learn how to positively identify an enemy tank, personnel, artillery, and command posts, while on the other hand, we use that knowledge to learn how to effectively hide our assets from the eyes of the enemy. We know that much of the world is awash with not-so-useful information, so we learn how to display only the data that is necessary for the development of answers to critical, need-to-know information; such as friendly combat power, availability of support and intelligence assets, and enemy locations and activities.
Through concentrating, we learn to assess the status of things by their sound. The crack of bullets can tell you if you are being shot at as well as the type of caliber and even the type of weapon based on the cadence of shots. An American M4 sounds a lot different than a Kalashnikov, and an American Abrams’ gas turbine engine sounds a lot different than the diesel engine of Soviet-made tanks. You can tell whether artillery fire is incoming or outgoing. You may even be able to tell the nationality of people based on the language in nature of their speech.
Through constant training, we even learn how to employ some of our less evolved senses such as smell, taste, and feel. A crewman of a mechanized vehicle; like a tank or an infantry fighting vehicle, will understand a lot about the health of their vehicle by how it feels in the vibration of the engine and its movement. They also understand much of its health in any novel smells that may signal a fluid leak or the smoke of an overheating engine or grinding gears.
So, while we know it is important to train in a task so that we know what to do without much thought, we also need to be cautious that the training we engage in is accurate to real-world scenarios as much as possible. Remember, our automatic or compelled responses will be activated upon familiar situations - patterns that, once recognized, begin to activate well-worn neuronal pathways in the brain. Pathways that are built upon similar experiences or training that replicates them. If these pathways lead to actions that are beneficial, then great! If these pathways lead to actions that cause you problems, then not so great. But how would you get into a position where you instinctively engage in an action that disadvantages you? Simply put, poor training leads to bad habits that are replicated in the real world.
In combat, much of what a warfighter does feels instinctual. A common tenet of battle, that is extensively talked about by leadership, is that when things get chaotic and you become panicked that you will invariably “fall back on your training.“ When you are exposed to a situation that is unique then you will react according to the previous training that resembles that situation the most; even if the response isn’t the ideal course of action for this scenario. While we try to make training as realistic as possible, it won’t be as effective as the real thing, but regardless, tough and realistic training will help develop those pathways in response to patterns that closely resemble actual combat situations. If the training, however, includes actions that are there for the purposes of facilitating training itself, then there is a possibility that those actions may be replicated in combat. Here are a few examples:
Now for this example, take it with a grain of salt as it is hearsay, from a handful of sources. The reason for this is because of the rarity of the situation, but it is nonetheless a probable and interesting situation in conditioned reflexes.
Imagine how individuals train to disarm an enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Well not as common for warfighters during battle it is trained by military, civilian law enforcement, and for self-defense in non-combat environments by civilians going about their day where they may be confronted by a mugger with a knife or a firearm or witness a robbery or active shooter. For these people, they may choose to disarm a threat rather than run or hide. Many train for such potentialities and one of the best ways to train in disarming attackers is to go through numerous repetitions of specific step action drills.
- Observe the threat.
- Orient oneself to assess the situation and determine options.
- Decide on how to act - such as disarming the threat.
- Act in the appropriate manner to successfully disarm the threat.
- (In Training) Repeat steps to commit the process to muscle memory.
Muscle memory, in this case, is simply the strong neural pathways that allow the individual to quickly execute a series of actions that have led to success. Because training repetitions are treated like a real experience, as far as neuronal development is concerned, it won’t necessarily forgo or skip steps without conscious effort. You may have seen the potential problem before I mention it, but to enlighten you on the problem here are the incidents from two different sources.
Have you ever heard of the quote attributed to Albert Einstein and paraphrased in pop culture about the definition of insanity?
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
You may have witnessed individuals constantly repeating the same mistakes or undertaking courses of action that have failed many times before and wonder why they keep doing it. Why does someone execute an action that experience has already taught them won’t work?
Firstly, and this is mainly a side-note to the actual discussion I want to talk about, repetition isn’t just doing the same thing over and over. In each instance, environmental variables can be different, even if only slightly. In a fistfight, it isn’t insane to keep punching your opponent in the face because each strike causes disorientation and brain injury, and we know if we do it enough they will eventually get knocked out. It is only insane when we can assess that we won’t be able to achieve results with the time and resources we have and that it will only be a waste to do so.
Secondly, and more importantly for this topic, it isn’t just physical actions that can be hard-wired into our brains but thought processes as well. From the perspective of the brain, everything is just some form of neuronal activation. When we start thinking through the problems we face in life - tests in school, playground arguments, workplace projects, and situational training exercises - things that really get the whole brain working to solve, then when we start getting positive feedback about things that worked, and those associated neuronal pathways are strengthened. The same pathway you will rely on again and again to achieve results, and each successful repetition will only make them stronger. You develop a preference, a bias, for how you solve problems. Because of this, as the saying goes, “when all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails,” this applies to thought processes, and problem-solving, and this can be detrimental to the point of appearing insane to outsiders, though is actually sane, yet unfortunate.
In the military, we train in preparation for the battlefield. To improve our capabilities, lethality, and survivability. We hone our skills through training, though we may hope to never use them. Most of our career is spent training to fight, and rarely, if at all, actually fighting.
In business, we train in preparation for actual fieldwork. In a new job or position, there are often new systems and processes that must be learned, and we practice using them in practical exercises and dry runs before actually doing it for real where safety and client/customer accounts are on the line.
In sports, teams and individuals will train and condition their bodies and minds to become more effective athletes. They go over the same drills, adding variability to keep themselves agile and flexible to change. There is more time spent training for games and competitions than actually participating.
In life, schooling; elementary, secondary, post-secondary, as well as trade and technical education, is simply training for future jobs and careers. As well as being a more effective and well-rounded adult. Scholastic training, the combination of practical exercises and learned knowledge, is apparent in our everyday lives. Regardless that we joke about the effectiveness of public education, we understand its importance as we make suggestions on how we should improve it.
Another benefit of training comes in the form of what is practically automatic action that allows the individual to focus on other pressing matters. If we are trained to do a certain action or process that appears to be done on autopilot, then our minds are allowed to wander elsewhere. The untrained mind will focus on accomplishing the task at hand as it assesses the cause-and-effect relationship between its actions and the results, and adjust subsequent actions based on this assessment. The untrained will focus on the work being done since they don’t have the experience - the strong neuronal pathways - that lead to successful outcomes. The trained mind has experience - well-developed neuronal pathways - and can execute with limited attention, freeing the mind to focus on other things.
Think about the times you first learned to drive, ride a bike, type on a keyboard, or use tools. You were most likely focused on the action itself, how to manipulate the equipment and yourself, and how your inputs produced certain outcomes. Once you became skilled in these activities, your body was able to accomplish them with a certain level of autonomy, and you could think ahead to subsequent actions or an entirely unrelated issue. The fact that you can drive from home to work while thinking about what tasks you need to accomplish when you arrive, instead of focusing on driving, is telling of a brain with well-developed neuronal pathways.
The ability to think about things other than the task at hand allows us to properly plan and adjust as new information is received. We can continue, stop, or alter a course of action mid-task as our efforts start producing perceivable results. Even if we are not thinking about the consequences of a task, we are able to let our minds wander breaking the monotony of repetitive actions.
If you understand a particular task, if you have mastered it, then you understand the nature of that task and how its function supports other processes and systems within an organization. The novice can execute a task, the skilled can teach a novice how to do it, but the master or subject matter expert can explain the reasoning on why it should or shouldn’t be done. When we become intimate with how a tool functions, a drill is performed, a process flows, or a system functions, then we can start to innovate in new and unorthodox ways. We understand how it works, and because we know how it all goes together, when problems arise it is often the experts who know where to look to solve problems and troubleshoot.
The Toyota Motor Company has a management and manufacturing philosophy called the Toyota Production System (TPS) also known as the Toyota Way. While many companies have their own stated values and philosophy, Toyota’s system that led to improvement in quality assurance and control became referred to as lean manufacturing. If you have ever been exposed to lean manufacturing or its more quantitative adaption of lean six sigma, then you have been exposed to this Toyota system in some capacity. Within the Toyota Production System, they utilize a learning cycle called SHU-HA-RI, which represents the three phases of learning that turn a novice into a master of their craft.
In training, commanders not only strive to reach training proficiency, but also seek to sustain levels of proficiency over time. Leaders understand the impact of task atrophy - that over time and circumstances, individuals and unit skills naturally erode. Leaders actively and aggressively work to mitigate the effects of task atrophy by using available training resources to extend training proficiency when possible. Effectively leveraging live, virtual, and constructive environments assists leaders in sustaining training proficiency and enabling task mastery.
Military organizations, especially in the regular active services, have larger turnover rates than one would see in the business sector. For the Army, Soldiers are constantly in-processing and out-processing out of units every few years, and it may be rare to see anyone that has been within one unit for more than a year or two. The Army likes to shift personnel around, developing the skills of Soldiers through exposing them to different operational environments, new command climates, slotting Soldiers into needed positions, and otherwise keeping things from stagnating and preventing these units from developing into culturally isolated communities.
With high turnover, however, you run the risk of falling out of proficiency in collective tasks as well as onboarding new Soldiers that are unqualified in their own individual tasks. Remember, a military organization fights as a team and each member relies on the others to accomplish their tasks to a standard and to be able to be flexible should people need to carry out the tasks of others killed, wounded, or absent. Not only would training to a cohesive and synergistic standard for organizations of hundreds of individuals be difficult, but trying to maintain a high level of competency in these internal teams becomes quite challenging when you have to say goodbye to 25% of your organization over the span of 6-months while bringing on the same number of people that have to be educated on your policies and procedures.
As a result, military commanders plan training along with cycles of individual, collective, and live-fire tasks every few months to ensure that the unit stays into a “band of excellence” in training proficiency - a sort of Goldilocks zone of decently skilled. This way, the unit always retains a certain level of proficiency so that if the unit had to prepare for future deployments and combat operations then they would be able to halt the loss of any Soldiers and quickly ramp up training to attain a fully-trained combat-ready status.
In business, I ask you, are you prepared to continue operations should something happen to one of your people? If you have people in key positions in your organization, you need to know what will have to occur should they no longer be able to carry out their duties. If the company is reliant on the duties of a virtual assistant who processes all of your documents, you need to have someone that would be able to step in and take over should they abruptly disappear. Your teams should be able to bring forward someone to fulfill the role of their manager should the manager need to leave. You need to ensure that your company doesn’t have single points of failure that cause disaster for everyone as a result of a person; falling in the shower, getting in a car wreck, being head-hunted by a competitor, going on emergency leave, or suffering emotional distress that makes them unable to work. Get organizations trained within a “band of excellence” so that personnel shifts, no matter in what form they occur, don’t derail your operations.
For example, my real estate brokerage, Sundance Realty LLC in the state of Oregon had to undergo a change when the original owner and brokerage manager, Farris Beatty, died from cancer. While prior to her death we were in the gradual process of transitioning management duties from her to myself. I originally was the brokerage’s marketing and web designer, but over the span of two years, I was being trained to become a full-time brokerage manager. While it was supposed to be a slow and gradual process of learning and shifting duties, when cancer struck what was supposed to be two years of gradual training was only about six months of gradual training followed by two months of an existential threat and one week of desperate administrative and legal form filling. The brokerage was saved, not just because we got the necessary documentation completed and the appropriate government agencies updated, but because the training that I had originally undergone gave me enough knowledge to know what to do in order to take over operations of the brokerage.
Plan training to ensure the competency of people within your organization is sustained over time, and you can’t let this turnover weaken your ability to execute your mission.
Red Cycle: A unit in the red cycle is the unit first hit up for tasking from higher. Generally speaking, since the unit is focused on receiving many taskings, sometimes even last minute, the only real training they can conduct during this time is individual training. The goal during this cycle, other than satisfying as many tasks as they can, is to get all their personnel satisfactorily trained on their individual tasks by shifting internal taskings to free opportunity to train for everyone at some point so that by the amber cycle they are able to focus on collective tasks amongst their teams.
Amber Cycle: A unit on the amber cycle covers down on taskings that the red cycle unit is unable to support because they have already been tasked too much. Basically, if the red cycle’s tasks begin to overwhelm the red cycle unit’s ability to support, then the unit on amber cycle takes over the excess. During amber, the unit doesn’t anticipate that many taskings and will have planned for more collective team-based training that would not have been possible during the red cycle. The goal of amber is to get all the collective tasks trained so that they can prepare for the green cycle.
Green Cycle: A unit on green cycle is focused almost entirely on training and getting proficient in their mission; getting as ready for battle as possible in their own home station. Ideally, no taskings should fall on this unit if it can be avoided, and the unit should be focused on training to the point that the entire unit has trained and qualified together in their tasks in a field environment. The goal of the green cycle is to get proficient in their warfighting capabilities, so that by the end the entire unit is as ready as it can be, before going back into the red cycle.