What the Marines Can Teach Business Leaders

“I wish there was a book I could read that would tell me what to do.” (former brand management colleague)

As soon as I heard these words, I knew her days at our company were numbered.

They were, and it was a shame.  She was a new, junior marketer with an MBA from one of the best universities, and clearly a bright person.  At the same time, though, she was not cut out for the rough and tumble world of brand management, at least not in that company at that time.

One of the most prized business capabilities is being able to think on your feet, to take basic knowledge and principles and to be able to apply them in new and challenging situations.  As my former colleague learned, magic instructions rarely exist.  Notwithstanding training and coaching, you’ve got to figure it out!

The challenge is how to develop these capabilities.

Corps BusinessThere’s much good learning from the book Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines (David H. Freedman).  It’s an easy read and contains excellent lessons and/or reminders for marketers and business leaders.

Consider this.  If you were given an inside opportunity to learn from this company, wouldn’t you want to?

[They] “have specialized in operating under chaotic, fast changing, high-intensity conditions that provide not only little way of knowing what the opposition is going to throw at you but perhaps no way of knowing exactly who the opposition is going to be.”

Hell yes!

I’ve previously written about Principle 1, Aim for the 70-Percent Solution:  “It’s better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to roll out a perfect plan when it’s too late.”

You can learn all 30 principles and more in the book.

In the meantime, I’ve organized 8 Key Nuggets and highlighted 3 More Principles that particularly resonated for me.

1.  Keep Getting Better

“No matter how good the Marines get at any aspect of their mission, they never consider themselves to have reached a pinnacle.  They always suspect that somehow there’s a better way to do things.”

2.  Foster a Climate of Action

“But it does want its people to be bold – that is, to take initiative and, when in doubt, to act rather than mull things over while critical events are unfolding.” Continue reading

Put “70 Percent Solution” & Rapid Fielding Concepts into Go-to-Market Toolbox



Business teams often struggle to achieve marketplace action, whether it’s new products or services, changes to their customer offerings or even basic sales materials.

One limiting factor may be a sort of impossible quest for perfection.  That’s why I’ve come to embrace the philosophy of seeking excellence.

I was reminded of this when reading that the US Department of Defense has a division called Rapid Fielding.  Yes, there is a “Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Rapid Fielding” in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering.  It’s intriguing because while US armed forces are rightfully known for many great things, rapid weapons development and deployment are not high on the list.

“The Rapid Fielding mission is to identify, develop, demonstrate, assess & rapidly field innovative concepts and technologies that supply critical capabilities to meet time-sensitive operational needs.”

Rapid Fielding was neatly summarized by reporter Julian E. Barnes in The Wall Street Journal: 

“The rapid-fielding office is in large measure trying to follow the guidance of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who argued that too many defense-acquisition projects spent too much trying to develop a perfect weapon. Instead, Mr. Gates argued, the Pentagon should try to focus on cheaper technologies that offered “70% solutions.””



There’s a lot for business leaders to take from the 70 percent solution concept, which comes from the US Marine Corps.

“Everyone is always looking for the perfect truth, but you never have it.  Even if you did have it, the other guy is up to something, so by the time you execute it your truth isn’t perfect anymore.” (Colonel Thomas Moore, quoted in Corps Business – The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines by David H. Freedman). Continue reading