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Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marinesby David H. Freedman
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One1.Planning and Decision-Making
Hope is not a course of action.
The airstream rips through the open bays of the CH-53 Superstal-lion, extorting a layer of tears through which to regard the crumpled-tin-foil ocean, burnished by cloud shadows, streaking by below. Conversation is impossible over the thunderous drone of the convenience-store-sized helicopter, and it's beside the point anyway. Seated shoulder to shoulder in two facing rows are fifteen mostly young people in casually neat dress, as if on a trip to a museum, though that wouldn't explain the several duffel bags stuffed with assault rifles. The job in front of them is a delicate one: upon landing, they will have to thread their way to the U.S. embassy, without attracting the attention of unruly mobs or roving bands of thugs, and set up a communications center that will support the deployment of a few hundred of their colleagues.
At this moment many of those colleagues are just below decks from the helicopter's departure point on the USS Tarawa. Some are trying on the black ski masks they will wear when they storm a terrorist weapons cache. Others are checking the mortars they will use, if necessary, to defend a food supply intended for the starving locals. Still others are going over the maps that will help them locate and rescue the pilot of a downed jet.The Marines are coming.
It's only an exercise--these Marines are invading a portion of the vast tracts of Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego. But no one is taking the missions lightly. For one thing, many of them have been up half the night making plans and preparations because the mission orders didn't even arrive untillate the previous evening. For another, this exercise will provide the challenges of a real mission down to the smallest detail, including the thudding of real bullets into the ground around them. They don't know what awaits them onshore, but they are confident that six hours of planning and preparing have left them better equipped to face whatever it is than most military units would be with six months to get ready. If past experience is any guide, they are right.
Altogether, these Marines will carry out twenty-seven missions during the exercise; each assignment is not only plausible but in fact similar to an actual assignment taken on by the Corps in recent years. The missions run the gamut from large-scale combat, surgical strikes, and police actions to search-and-destroy operations, evacuations, and humanitarian assistance.Anyone who wants to get a sense of the extent to which Marines have injected extraordinary levels of velocity, flexibility, and competence into their management practices could hardly do better than to observe a pre-mission planning session. We observe such a session in this chapter, gaining along the way an orientation to the basic Marine operating environment and mindset.
The unlit cigar bobs and jerks in Colonel Thomas Moore's mouth as he surveys the cramped and visibly rocking room. When he finally removes the cigar for a moment, the end is seen to have been ground to the flatness of cardboard. "The fight's on," he rumbles heartily. "How're y'all doin'?" The responses, and Moore's responses to the responses, vary from sounds that approximate a seal bark, a warthog growl, and a foghorn to, most frequently, the sound "oo-rah." Apparently the meeting is inorder.
We are in the bowels of the Tarawa, the evening before the helicopter journey. Many of the Marines' theories on decentralization and decisionmaking are about to be put to the test. The players are the members of the Eleventh MEU, or Marine Expeditionary Unit, under Moore's command. ("MEU" is pronounced, deceptively, the way a kitten would say it.) A MEU generally consists of about three ships' worth of Marines, jets, helicopters, artillery, tanks, amphibious and ground vehicles, weapons, and supplies. All Marines consider themselves part of a rapid deployment force. But a MEU is yet another level of rapid response. They are floating invasion parties.
Three 2,000-person MEUs are constantly springing in and out of existence from the pool of Marines at Camp Pendleton, another three out of Camp Lejeune, and three more out of Okinawa. Of the three MEUs associated with each location, one is deployed at sea, one is preparing to relieve it, and one is being taken apart. Of the three MEUs that are deployed, one is ordinarily stationed in the West Pacific, one in the Mediterranean, and one in the Persian Gulf.
Typically the MEUs just float around for most of their six-month deployments while the Marines on board do their best to keep themselves occupied--they don't have many duties, since the ships are run by the Navy, and there isn't enough room for training exercises. So they read, lift weights, and occasionally, as a treat, get to practice their riflery skills on deck. It's a little like prison, except for the riflery part. But the Marines also know that if there's a summons for help, they could be landing on a beach under a hail of machine-gun fire in a matter of hours. Becausethey're typically the first ones to arrive at the scene of a military intervention, Marines in MEUs like to call themselves "the pointy tip of the spear" (though the term isn't exclusively reserved for MEUs).
Moore's MEU is finishing the end of its training cycle. But before it is allowed to deploy to the Persian Gulf or elsewhere, it has to get through two days of evaluation exercises, during which it will carry out the twenty-seven missions--a seemingly overwhelming number of assignments. At any one time as many as four missions will be under way simultaneously. The goal is to make the exercises more demanding than anything these Marines are likely to see in a real crisis.
If the ideal for modern business is fast-reacting, hard-hitting and highly motivated, it sounds a lot like how the U.S. Marines run their business too. In "Corps Business" Freedman discusses the similarity of techniques including "the rule of three", the hard strike, and the 70 percent solution.
That's what every business wants to be. And that's why the U.S. Marines excel in every mission American throws at them, no matter how tough the odds. In Corps Business, journalist David H. Freeman identifies the Marine's simple but devastatingly effective principles for managing people and resources — and ultimately winning. Freedman discusses such techniques as "the rule of three," "managing by end state," and the "70% solution," to show how they can be applied to business solutions.
About the Author
David H. Freedman is a journalist specializing in business and technology. He is a senior editor at Forbes ASAP, and his work has appeared in Inc., the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, Wired, Science, and the Harvard Business Review. He is the author of two critically acclaimed books on artificial intelligence and (with Charles C. Mann) on computer hacking.
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