‘Extreme Ownership’: A Book about Navy SEALs

A friend mentioned a new book about Navy SEALs, called Extreme Ownership. It draws lessons between what SEALs do and business situations. So, I bought it and read it.

I’ve long been fascinated by the mental toughness of special ops. soldiers and the to-the-brink training program they go through, which weeds out most applicants. I’ve read SEAL Team Six and Lone Survivor, too.

I thought the book had some good nuggets and I had high expectations, as the ratings for it were pretty high.

But, I have to admit that reading it was a mixed experience.

I think that’s because of a meeting I had with someone who used to be part of special ops. command, called JSOC, and about which I’ve blogged before here. He said that the soldiers often have a hard time readjusting to civilian life. Knowing that affected how I read the book.

And, also, I didn’t find that struggles about life and death compared to what business executives go through. I honestly felt that the two situations are completely different, and I felt that deriving business lessons from Navy SEAL battle scenes cheapened the soldiers’ experiences.

I then spoke with my friend, who had mentioned the book. We surmised (and, we’re guessing here) that many of the soldiers encountered a very real and meaningful sense of family and intimacy with their fellows special ops. soldiers. And, when they left that environment, it became extremely difficult to leave their military family for their civilian family.

Just a theory.

I’m a fan of “brain hacking,” the burgeoning field of neuroscience made possible by new and cheap technologies that can actually scan brain activity. One thing we know is that the brain is very supple and display what scientists call “neuroplasticity.” We used to think that the brain was pretty hard wired, but we now know that it isn’t.

My POV is that the intense SEAL training and deployments create really deep bonds among the soldiers. Real brotherly love. And, it’s terribly hard to undo that neural wiring when they get back.

So, I guess the point of this post is this: I hope our government spends much time and money to “undo” this neural wiring. They spent a lot of effort to inculcate discipline, self-denial, and camaraderie among these soldiers.

And, these men and women really deserve support to get them back into civilian life.

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5 thoughts on “‘Extreme Ownership’: A Book about Navy SEALs

  1. Jo, maybe not “undo” but “expand and re-route.” As a wife of captain (not SEALS) who returned home with severe PTSD and TBI (Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Iraq), I can vouch for how difficult that is — for soldier, wife, kids, companion animals, civy friends and coworkers — as we head into the end of our necessary divorce. But those brotherly bonds you mentioned, formed through training and combat (for women soldiers/medics too), are important and necessary for this next chapter in our history. We need to learn how best to heal the trauma (see Bessel Van der Kolk, Paula Kaplan, and others), and use the strength of those bonds to uplift the country and world. Their know-how and will are much needed! But we must take care of their wounds first, inner and outer. We must talk some day. Theresa Thompson (TeriJ TC’9Y0)

  2. I agree that what soldiers (especially special ops types) go through is far more psychologically and physically intensive that what business folks do, and that re-entry into the civilian world is tough. My father and my wife’s father both served in special ops capacities.

    But I don’t think we cheapen their experiences by learning from, and being inspired by, their experiences. I’ve found many military books (and my extended families’ experiences) to be extraordinarily formative to my approach to work (and by extension, life in general). (for example, I wrote about it here: Leadership Lessons from the ancient greeks. And that “Band of Brothers” feeling that develops in military units under fire ABSOLUTELY has a parallel in the crucible that is a startup.

    So, while I have not read this particular book, I do find that this class of book absolutely has value to non-military situations.

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