I was a very unremarkable soldier. Boot camp was a shocker for me, a relatively unfit and very underweight recruit. But my buddy Chor Hong and I aced one exercise that I would always remember.
This was no complicated mission. The scenario: separated from our unit, we had to move stealthily as a pair from point A to B in a forested area. As we made our way to the point, roughly 2km away, we would be intercepted by our instructors playing the enemy. If they caught us, we would be subjected to creative punishments — getting the boots on our feet switched, wearing our helmets in reverse, and of course, enduring verbal bombardment from the instructors.
As the initial pairs were dispatched, we could hear them getting caught barely within a minute from the starting line. Every pair was caught, and often more than once.
There was no escape.
It was nerve-wracking but I shared with my buddy that we could do it differently.
We had a plan and here’s what worked for us:
- We did not rush. Despite being harried at the starting point, we took our time. We lay quiet when needed to, slowing our pace to a crawl. We were in no hurry to get caught.
- We listened carefully. We heard those who got caught and kept our distance. To listen, we had to minimise the chatter, tune out the noise, and stay focused.
- We made logical deductions. We were told that point A to B was a corridor with the margins on the left and right patrolled by enemies. Since we didn’t hear anyone caught on the right, we headed down that way, right margin, keeping our heads down.
- We stayed the course. Near the midpoint, we met a pair of friendlies who decided to join us. When we were three quarters through, the pair changed their minds and returned to the main corridor passage. Shortly after leaving us, my buddy and I could hear them getting caught.
- We avoided the herd instinct. This was the hardest to do. No one was on our track except for the pair who had joined us briefly in the third quarter of the journey. How could everyone be so wrong?
Eventually, Chor Hong and I were the first pair to reach point B, ahead of 158 men*, surprising the scoring NCO from behind. In the final stretch, we went off the grid completely — we had literally gone down the path not taken. When we told the instructors, they remarked that no trainees had ever strayed the way we had in this exercise.
This was more than thirty years ago. Over the three decades, I have kept the five pointers at heart and found them useful in planning, crisis management, and mindfulness. I think these five pointers are relevant to start-ups, too. When confused and cornered, slow down, tune in to the environment carefully, and believe in yourself.
As the week takes off, take a moment to re-calibrate. Have a good one!
*The actual number would have been lesser than 158 men. Recruits would have dropped out during boot camp because of medical reasons among others.. The figure was calculated based on a default company size of 160 men.
This article was first published on LinkedIn.