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In a recent study, people were asked what institutions they trusted the most. Who do you think was rated the highest? The military was ranked highest at 72%. Much of this rating came from the fact that the military completes what it starts and does what it says it will do in more cases than not. What makes the military so effective? How does the military finish what it starts? Can what the military does benefit you in your everyday life? 

While no institution is perfect (if you have been in the military, you know that), one of the main reasons people trust in the military is that military culture carefully plans what it wants to do before it does it. The military thinks strategically in both the short term and long term. They know how to move from dream to done, from rhetoric to reality, from idea to product, from future to present. Many people hope something will happen. Hope is not a strategy.     

Today, let’s glean from the military the concept of strategy and planning to achieve an objective.    

Grady Daniels, a retired military man I know, wrote a short description of objectives and strategies that he calls “Military 101.” Military 101 is common knowledge to most military people. And it’s both efficient and effective. Please pay attention. We could all benefit from what Grady has written here:

“Objective (At the highest levels, this is sometimes called Grand Strategy): What you ultimately want. A strategy is an art of picking the big-picture way of obtaining your objective. Operational art is choosing and organizing your campaigns to make sense and work together towards the objective and in support of your strategy. A campaign is a series of battles aimed at a specific part of the objective. Tactics is the art of winning a battle. A battle is simply the fight you are engaged in presently.

“Now, there is nothing esoteric or arcane about any of this. Here’s a real-life example for you about how all of these can work together to achieve what we want to do or where we desire to go. Let’s say your objective is to make your wife happy on your anniversary. That’s your goal. That’s where you’re going. 

“So, in military terms, here’s how these components work together for the desired end. Objective: Happy wife. Strategy: Show your wife a wonderful time on your anniversary. Operational Art: Find a good jeweler for that lovely tennis bracelet you know she wants. Find a quality florist in your neighborhood. Remember the name of that posh restaurant your wife has always wanted to go to? Find it. If you can’t remember, ask your kids. 

“Here are examples of focus and awareness that might occur at any given point in the campaign to your objective of a happy wife. Focus: Stick to the plan. Talk to your workmates about football after work on another day. Awareness: On the way to pick up your wife, don’t forget to stop when the police car in front of you stops, too.

“All things considered, in the end, if you worked your plan right: Voilá! A happy wife! There may be intermediate objectives, concurrent campaigns, supporting operations, and such throughout the plan, but you get the idea. Get a strategy!”

What do you think about Grady’s example? I know it is left-brain logical stuff. But wouldn’t you agree that a bit of planning and the smooth operation of all the parts of the objective enhanced the romantic experience (right-brain stuff) of the anniversary dinner? There were no distractions, because you planned the main actions. 

Military 101 takes a bit of work. But remember: no deposit, no return. As I have said, a plan of attack is much better than a panic attack. As a Japanese proverb says: “When you’re dying of thirst, it’s too late to think about digging a well.”