3 to 5 Things

3 to 5 things

In the Army, we have defined something that we need to know as a priority intelligence requirement, or PIR.  These intelligence requirements either help a commander to either A) make a decision or B) deny an enemy course of action.  And they help to focus the collection of information and analyzing that into intelligence. But so often, I see lists of 10, 11 and even 15 priority intelligence requirements. If you have that many priorities, then really you have no priorities.

Is this how you manage your life?   With everything a priority?    You spend energy in-between projects, energy that is wasted in the movement between projects.

I have an acquaintance who has been trying to start an entertainment studio for 15 years, thinking that it will reduce risk and allow him the chance at creating a great film. He has some background in film marketing from the 1980s and 90s, but no experience since.  His idea is that if he executive produces 100 projects, certainly a couple of them will be big hits and he will bask in the glorious revenue stream of these hits.  Only problem, no investor buys his dream….. Because they don’t believe that he can do one project right.  He cannot and will not show the discipline to get one project in the can so he can have a calling card, a reference.  Instead, he globe trots around the world trying to sell that marketing experience to get someone to invest in his dream studio.

It may be risky to put all your efforts into 1 thing, but it is riskier still to put your efforts into any more than 5 things.      focus2

Terrorism is not the New Normal

I heard a self-proclaimed “terrorism expert” the other day on television saying that terrorist attacks are the new normal and that we just have to accept a certain number of terrorist attacks in our lives, which means accepting death. I would bet anything that this false prophet of terrorism has not lost any loved ones or friends to a terrorist attack, because if he had then he would know that it is not easy to just accept it.

1) First, you have to stop their momentum.  Terrorists build upon previous attacks to gain power and suppress a population.  ISIS did it in Iraq, and before them it was Al Queda in Iraq.  They have done it with less success in Europe, but let’s not forget the links between the van attack in Southern France, the shootings in Paris, the attack on the train in France, and the attempted shootings in Belgium.  They will try to use the same playbook in the United States- build one attack upon another.

2) Second, we do not hear enough about the attacks that the FBI, Homeland Security and local law enforcement interdict and stop.  But it is a fair number of attacks.

3)  Third, don’t ever become numb to murder, and terrorism is murder.   How would you feel if one of your loved ones was killed by a terrorist that we let into this country for the sake of “diversity”?

4)  Fourth, and finally, we can manage our immigration system to our benefit.   We have no responsibility to bring in excess labor or people who will be a drag on our welfare system and our prison system.  We should end chain migration and only allow immigration from countries where we can properly vet the person.  That means we have to be able to get records of people who want to immigrate and we have to check those records.

Let’s not accept this and allow terrorism to be considered “normal”.

War Gaming in Business Decisions

war gameWar Gaming

Since late summer, I have participated in three weeks of wargames in Korea and three weeks of experimental war gaming at Fort Leavenworth, at a place that the Army calls the “battle lab”.  In Korea, we simulated an attack from North Korea, and at Fort Leavenworth, we simulated a fight with Russia in Eastern Europe.  In these experiences, I have come to realize two big benefits of war gaming:

-war gaming brings out unexpected problems that you could not predict through ordinary planning

-war gaming offers a chance to develop revolutionary solutions that you would not think up through imagination alone

-war gaming can test the limits of a supply system and find constraints or “bottle-necks”

The involvement of an enemy or competitor offers a key difference between war gaming your plans and just thinking ahead.  In war gaming, we name Russia as a “near peer” adversary, meaning someone who has about the same capabilities as you, if not more.  When we have someone role-play the decisions and actions of a real adversary, a real person who does not wish you well.

In the Army, we often call a person who role-plays the enemy in a war game as the “Red Team”.  To set-up a good red team, we have to take someone put them in the position of being the enemy and rival of the United States Army.  They are not just thinking of what the competition might do, they become the competition and they do it – in a war game.  It’s a big difference.  The red team will find your weaknesses and vulnerability.

How do you red team in practicality? Set up a simulation of whatever you are trying to plan for: a new product release, a merger, and acquisition…etc.  Then have someone from your team switch his mind set and play the completion from beginning to end.   And you can’t like this person or befriend them the whole way through.  They have to become the enemy, because only then will they really play the read team properly.   They will find your weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

In the process, hopefully, you will find a way to build barriers and carve out a defendable niche and maybe even a small monopoly.  As Peter Thiel often points out, a monopoly, no matter how small is more desirable to own than a business that has lots of competition, no matter how large.

If you want to schedule a war gaming simulation for your business, please contact me.

Mark O’Neill

Army Reserve Officer, Author and Consultant


Veteran Shares Memories of General Patton

General Patton was one of the ultimate planners and detail guys that have ever sharpened a pencil and wrote an operations order.  Many people do not know this, but he was senior to Dwight Eisenhower, and he helped then Major Eisenhower get through Command and General Staff College by giving him advice and helping him with his papers – while not cheating.   Patton knew how far his tanks could go on a tank of fuel, and how many fuelers he had, and how many gallons each fuel truck held.  Same for ammo.  He wargamed out different scenarios in every battle that considered logistics and combat losses.  In short, General Patton didn’t just stumble his way through WWII, he planned and he wargamed it.

Learn from Patton, and start planning your way through life’s engagements.  Learn to use a decision matrix and wargaming of scenarios.

WWII vet shares memories of General Patton

Decision Point and Half-Time Adjustments


Don’t make a decision until you’re ready to or you have to.  Sounds like an argument for procrastination, right? It is – sort of.

People often make decisions too soon and too quickly, far before they have to make the decision.  More information and more analysis will lead to better decisions and improve your life, your relationships, your balance sheet and income statement.  And who doesn’t want to improve your life in these ways? Just take the time to make good decisions, even if it means giving up some leisure time to do research.

Via formal decision making and war gaming, decision-makers and players plan for a point where we will get the information we need or we have to make a decision due to the actions of opposing forces, information or not.  In other words, there is either a place on the ground or a set time & date where we will make the decision, but not before. People who use formal decision-making processes know that when they make a decision is as almost important as how.  Do not make it too early or before you consider what the opposing forces will do. And sometimes, a decision is a reaction to opposing forces, it’s a half-time adjustment that saves the game.

In the Army, we set decision points and look for indicators of enemy intention. Often, the enemy does not do what you think it will do. We plan, and yes we add a bit of hope, to have the required information to make a decision when we get to a decision point. That’s why we have an entire branch of the Army known as intelligence – people who collect information. But we don’t make decisions until we have to.

For example, the military has commands: “on order” and “be prepared to” which help to prepare a subordinate unit for a mission without committing to the decision. The higher headquarters is gathering information and analyzing, then it makes the decision when the situation reaches a decision point.

Let me give you a civilian example, a small company develops a new product and they want to decide how to release it and what channels to use.  Some managers would plan for how to distribute the product while developing the product, but we suggest that there are several approaches. Perhaps the company should use a test market or a trial?  We would need at least three pieces of information – First, who are our competitors and how will they react?  Second, how are our partners going to behave?  Third, how do our customers prefer to buy the product?  You have to test and examine these questions – don’t prognosticate.  Or perhaps the product is so revolutionary – a huge market release will provide the best advantage.  The company needs to do the analysis and make a formal decision, but information is key to the decision. A test market gives you more information.

One note, you may not think that most decisions involve the presence of an enemy.  For example, just deciding what car to buy does not involve an enemy or rival – but it does involve a bank or finance company.  Their role definitely could resemble the role of an enemy – if you miss your payments.  So, almost all decisions have a rival, enemy or competitor involved if you think about it deeply enough.



Stop Guessing and Start Planning Your Life

“Gut instinct” rarely works. Sure, people get lucky, especially in a subject area where they have experience and knowledge. But, the rest of us, the regular ones, often guess wrong. We all know famous industry leaders, especially hi-tech weenies, who have risen to the top of their game by making quick decisions, and they repeat their stories of glory on CNBC on late-night biographies. In reality, many of them just got lucky.  Other people who are as intelligent or more intelligent did not have such illustrious careers, and it is not because they’re not good, but because they didn’t make lucky guesses. It’s sad when you meet someone who’s gifted, intelligent and hard-working who has not had the success they deserve because they keep accepting what fate has in store for them.  I’m trying to get them to stop guessing and start developing problem-solving and decision-making skills.

If you want to stop guessing, start learning all you can about two disciplines: problem-solving and structured decision-making.  What is the difference between decision-making and problem-solving?   Problem-solving involves finding a way to change a process or relationship in order to return to a satisfactory steady-state. For example, we problem solve around a machine that is malfunctioning in order to get it back to running smoothly. The goal is to get past something and return to normal. Maybe we want to get past an issue in a marriage and return to a steady-state of marital bliss. In contrast, decision-making involves anticipating the future, and making choices that will have favorable odds to bring about the best future.  (Hint: both work best when you have a little fun with them.)

When problem-solving, spend time researching the problem and digging around just as a hobbyist who is passionate about the subject area.  People with intellectual curiosity make the best problem solvers.  Want to solve a problem? — be interested! That’s worth repeating.  Be interested!  Think about this scenario: a guy who is into model railroading has a great train set in his basement, but there’s a problem – when certain engines go around a tight corner, they lose power. How should he solve the problem?  First, I suggest that he avoid guessing and avoid thinking that it is anything related to anything that has happened before. Instead, he’s a hobbyist and he should think like a hobbyist, in other words he should have fun and treat the problem as an opportunity to learn.  He should dig around, look at the track via a magnifying glass, test the voltage on the track, or try different engines.  Without thinking of what the answer is, eventually it will come to him.  In technical terms, what he’s doing is a “variable analysis”, but he’s also having fun with his variable analysis and the fun makes a difference. Many variables could cause the problem – and they could be totally different than the “last time” or previous problem. Maybe that section of track is dirty because his son put something on it – like a greasy teddy bear – when our hero was not there, maybe the curve is to tight and the inside wheels lose contact with the rails, maybe the curve puts torque on the train and makes it harder to pull,… who knows?  Don’t guess. Investigate. Dig into it. Have fun. And do not guess.

The end-state for this HO train hobbyist (based on a true story from someone I know) is that he finds an unexplained layer of grease on the track – due to his youngest son and a wild sleep-over party involving silly sling putty and a pillow fight. He cleaned the tracks, and then all engines ran the same – not what you would think.

Sometimes, you problem-solve in the short term, to set yourself up to make a decision in the long-term. For example, in a marital spat, you solve the short-term problem, and then decide together what you want to do together or apart in the long-term.

When decision-making, use a structured process. The military, primarily the United States Army, has evolved a process called the Military Decision Making Process. It’s a complex 8-step process with a lot of staff functions in support.  General Patton used this process to win the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.  Another decision-making process is known as a decision matrix.  You don’t have to use such complicated tools, but you should use a pencil and paper to try to quantify what the decision is, why you are making it, and the pluses and minuses of each choice. The military outlines what it calls “courses of action” as the potential choices. And then the military uses war gaming to play-out what might happen at each stage during each course of action.  At the end, we military gentlemen quantify each course of action and we make a decision, a complicated process, which I will add more detail to in further writings.

If luck goes against you, do not take it personally and retreat to your planning table, gather allies, seek input and develop your next plan. Do not take bad luck as a personal insult.   If luck flies against you, blame it on the gods, and start re-planning. It ain’t over until you’re in the grave and maybe not even then.

In summary, take control of your life and stop relying on luck in many aspects of your life: what car to buy, what college to go to, who to marry, where to live, what dog to get, etc… Stop guessing and start living a life according to your problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Mark O’Neill serves in the Army Reserve as an Officer in Information Operations and Intelligence. He has served in Korea, Honduras, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He authored two fiction novels, Slave to the Lender and Bound to Get Burned. He is currently writing a book on the Civilian Decision-Making Process that features deep analysis of General Patton’s use of the military decision-making process in comparison to present-day civilian problems.   He lives in Helena, Montana.

He can be reached at   mro.producer  at gmail dot com