E What Special Forces Can Teach Us About Investing

When I was a young Army officer (well, a 2nd Lieutenant, anyway, which only other 2nd Lieutenants believe to be a “real” officer rank) I was assigned to a Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Group. PSYOP doesn’t exist in the Army today; political correctness has softened the harshness of Psy War (Golly, “harshness” as an element of warfare?  Perish the thought).  It’s now called Military Information Support Operations.

Whatever we call it, the job of the Psy Warrior is to either induce or reinforce behaviors favorable to United States national objectives, assuming of course that the United States leadership actually has objectives (and can articulate them.)  We trained with and deployed with other special operators so it was a challenging and exciting job, but I noticed that the Special Forces (Green Beret) teams seemed to have even more fun and adventure.      

I was attached to these teams but not a real member of the team, so after a year in my first assignment I began training to become a Special Forces officer.  In those days, there was the Army and there was Special Forces.  That is to say, the common wisdom back then of Big Green (the conventional Army) lay in the fact that everything was hurry up and wait; that there was an SOP (standard operating procedure) for everything; that prior ways of doing things were proven and therefore to be duplicated whenever possible and “this is the way we do things around here;” and that the job of the Infantry was to fight and someone else would take care of getting the beans and bullets to us.  

I learned very quickly what makes Special Forces different: all of these shibboleths were stood on their head.  I think many of those lessons learned can stand us in good stead as investors, as well.  Lessons like…

1 — In unconventional warfare, there is no hurrying the process.  It takes time to build relationships with the indigenous population, more time to train them, and more time to test them and prove to them that you will die alongside them if need be.  This is a continuous process; it moves as quickly as can rationally be done but it is the antithesis of hurry up and wait.

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Disclosure: The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it. The author has no business relationship ...

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Bobby Otis 6 years ago Member's comment

wow so bankers are like navy seals-its a wonder all them banks get robbed -and insurance people are just like fighter pilots -and bruce jenner is just like a girl-and dolezal is just like a black girl -

Emre Tuzun 6 years ago Member's comment

Thanks for the post..

Two quick side comments (which are pretty much applicable to any sort of competitive market & business, I believe):

1) SF compete in order to survive not only in the battlefield, but also among the peers. Since only the finest can survive in a highly competitive environment (it is not a matter of surviving throughout the rigorous courses, but maintaining a solid place in the community in the long term), it is imperative that you keep on honing your skills and expand your intellectual horizons for the sake of keeping the “diplomat warrior” label on your bizcard (!).

2) Since the conflicts of the modern day evolve with a continuous pace, one of the keys to success in the SF world is “adapting”. The faster and better you adapt yourself and your team into that specific zone (physically, CULTURALLY, linguistically and mentally), the chances are higher for the mission success. Because no other conflict or fight that you find yourself in will be the same with the previous one.

Long story short, ” just blend in”...

Douglas Kallerson 6 years ago Member's comment

Excellent read!

Gabriel Ramos Cabello 6 years ago Member's comment

Put the team where they perform best and with capacity to design a strategy.

Rob Merwin 6 years ago Member's comment

Sir, kind regards brother, I enjoyed the article. If you are interested, I believe that man on the horse was CPT Mark Nutsch, the team leader for that ODA and a friend of mine.

Marcy Brown 6 years ago Member's comment

Seriously? Very cool. I had thought the man on the horse was the author. Great read regardless.

Joseph Shaefer 6 years ago Author's comment

That's very kind of you, Marcy, but as I mentioned (maybe on Seeking Alpha / I thought here) I can fess up to being the young Captain rappelling in the first photo but by the time of Afghanistan I was an old general and they don't let the old guys have any fun at all any more! ;>)

Joseph Shaefer 6 years ago Author's comment

Thank you for that information, sir. I'll have to get my copy of Horse Soldiers when I return to the States and see if that photo is in there!

Carol W 6 years ago Contributor's comment

nice metaphor..SOP's in the market are nothing more than old wive's tales thought up by a bunch of old farts sitting around their pools in East Hampton. especially the go away in May cliche.These really don't work in today's algo driven," quarter second shaved off the trade" market, Look at a seasonality chart of May..hardly the month to sit out. Cheers Carol

Planns 6 years ago Member's comment

There are investment lessons in all walks of life. Even prostitution, one of the oldest professions on the planet, has some invaluable investment lessons to teach us. All we have to do is embrace our innate evolutionary nature, and hence be willing to absorb and process the [often not so] hidden lessons of life. Like you said: “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome”, and above all: use your dang it brain. Truth be told, even our freakin' incompetent, arrogant, and self-serving politicians and institutions have a thing or two to teach us about life, investment, and the art of strategy -- a negative experience is, nonetheless, a lesson learned.

That said, I'm sorry to say that your discourse on investing---albeit essentially a variation on Musashi's "The Book of Five Rings" and Sun Tzu's "The Art of War"---is fundamentally flawed (or rather, misplaced). And I'll tell you why.

Unlike trading, investing is inherently a passionate, optimistic, and value-based activity. One must feel passionate, and be optimistic, about the future performance/value of a certain financial instrument in order to 'invest' in it. It's like a relationship, a marriage, if you will; yes you must use your brain and strategize, but you have no business being in it, if you're not passionate about it, or at the very least don't feel optimistic about it's outcome. Passion and optimism are fundamental components of any investment activity. But historically speaking, mindless passion and baseless optimism have also proved to be the last nails in the coffins of many an investor. That's why so many of us happen to be traders and not investors, per se.

Everything that you've stated/asserted in this article is absolutely true of 'trading', but completely misplaced with regards to 'investing'.

Dan Jackson 6 years ago Member's comment

Interesting take. But I actually found the article to be "spot on." And I found the parallels to special forces to be quite thought provoking. I never actually connected the dots before, but it seems to me that military training can certainly give investors an edge. More veterans should consider pursuing it.

The comment was deleted!

Joseph Shaefer 6 years ago Author's comment

We'll agree to disagree, Planns. Everything I have done for 40 years is investing, not trading, and I find each of the above virtues/vices/points essential to maintaning the dicipline to do it well -- and with great passion!

Dick Kaplan 6 years ago Member's comment

What an interesting read! Can't believe I missed seeing this one earlier.

Joseph Shaefer 6 years ago Author's comment

Thank you, sir. We'll do better to make article headlines that leap out at you going forward! ;>) And thank you for your kind remark, Best, JS