Principles Remain the Same

Whether conducting Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN) in a foreign land, or acquiring users and selling a service in Silicon Valley, the principles of operations remain the same. I had the honor of spending over 20 years in military special operations conducting some of the most politically sensitive and high-profile military operations of the past two decades. I spent four of those years as a commander and operations officer with Delta Force, America’s elite hostage rescue unit. Now, while working in Silicon Valley as an operations director for a startup company in a chaotic battle space, I find myself applying the same principles that I did in special operations; the only difference is the type of threat.


From my experience, building a healthy team that focuses on mindful relationships is one of the most valuable elements in your company’s success. The strength and depth of your human network and your ability to develop, foster, and forge long lasting, healthy, and mindful relationships is crucial. One of my mentors at Delta Force took me aside once and shared with me three things he thought were critical to the success of that organization:

  1. Competence. The skill and follow-through of each member of that organization. This consists of their subject matter expertise, professionalism, initiative, resiliency, and ability to solve the most difficult problems with minimal guidance.
  2. Integrity. The stainless character of every member at ALL LEVELS, and his/her ability to “do the right thing” regardless of the situation.
  3. Relationships. Being situationally aware, engaged, supportive, and mindful of your environment and all those who comprise it, not only internal to your organization, but those external forces as well, such as your partners, media, and the agencies that enable and support you.

He went on to say, that of the three, the last, Relationships, was the most difficult to “get right,” and an organization’s success ultimately rest on the relationships you create and nourish. Since then, I have carried that advice with me everywhere I’ve gone—whether meeting people on a desolate hiking trail, engaging in random conversations in public places, or instilling trust in partners and clients—and in doing so, have increased my ability to operate successfully in new and uncertain environments.

Creating a Frinsurgency

Establishing, developing, and nurturing relationships doesn’t happen overnight; they take time, effort, and presence. Our company, CarDash, is a concierge auto repair service that operates currently in the San Francisco Bay area. We rely not only on technology, but also close relationships with our partners, in our case automotive service centers, to optimize operations. We spend an incredible amount of time and effort collaborating with our partners to learn what works and what doesn’t so we both can succeed. In military operations, an insurgency is defined as “the organized use of subversion and violence by a group to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region.” Counter to an insurgency, the term frinsurgency, “friendly insurgency,” is the deliberate use of continuous mindful engagement to develop, foster, and forge long lasting and reciprocal relationships internal and external to an organization.

Principles of a Frinsurgency

  1. Mission First, People Always.” Never forget those who support and collaborate with you—those responsible for the success of the mission, product, and service overall. Take the time to get out on the floor and meet those in the trenches and those adjacent to you in your workspace and headquarters. Ask them questions; learn what’s not working, and how you can assist them in their efforts. Leaders resource and synchronize assets.
  2. Stop, Look, Listen, Breathe.” In military jargon, SLLS (pronounced “seals”) means Stop, Look, Listen, Smell, and these are the steps taken whenever a security halt is called during a patrol or movement to identify nearby enemies or threats. Similarly, I find a technique that works for me when managing chaotic communication clashes, or an unorganized situation around me is, “Stop, Look, Listen, and Breathe.” This allows me a moment to focus fully, engage, and understand what is being said before jumping to conclusions. See Number 3.
  3. Three sides to every coin.” Too often, we draw conclusions without sufficient information and intelligence. Take the time to dig three to four layers deep. Gather as much information from various sources to draw a logical conclusion about the situation at hand. Learn everything there is to know about a situation, the operating environment, and everyone around you before you make a decision.
  4. Once contact is made, stay engaged.” Use all forms of communication to stay connected and engaged with those in your operating environment. Moreover, don’t lose sight or neglect to be present physically. This doesn’t necessarily imply being physically present all the time, but rather taking the time to meet with your team, partners, and customers when the opportunity arises. Staying engaged is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing.
  5. Remain Fluid, for flexible is too rigid.” From my experience, there is never a mission that goes perfectly as planned; hence the saying, “No plan ever survives first enemy contact.” Expect others’ plans to change as well, and don’t get frustrated if they fail to meet your expectations. The plan WILL CHANGE and when it does, you need to be able to detach, accept it, and move forward. DO NOT become operationally ineffective because of “paralysis by analysis.” Expected the unexpected, prepare for the worst case scenario, and be fluid.
  6. Fusion, fusion, fusion.” During all phases of special operations, operators rely heavily on intelligence to determine what the enemy is doing. While doing so, they work closely with intelligence analysts to obtain information critical to formulate solid plans and make informed decisions. We call that relationship between the two entities “OPSINTEL Fusion,” the action in which operators and intelligence analysts communicate and exchange information continually. As an example of fusion, operating in the business world, specifically in Silicon Valley, I’ve learned the importance of OPSTECH Fusion—the continuous cycle of ops and tech working hand-in-hand to create the most powerful user experience. Get the tech folks out on the street to see what is occurring firsthand, and get the operators in the backroom to understand the complexities involved with creating operational tech-centric solutions.

In his blog article, “70% of the Success of EOS Relies on a Healthy Team,” Jonathan B. Smith addressed the components of a healthy team. He wrote, “The lead domino for a successful implementation is a healthy team above all others. I can go so far as to estimate that a team’s success or lack of traction can be 70% attributable to team health. Healthy teams are functional, cohesive and are willing to ask the tough questions and deal with the most challenging issues.” Without a doubt, from my many years of operating in extreme environments, I can attest that 70% of the success of EOS relies on a healthy team. By applying the six principles of a frinsurgency, not only to your work, but in all you do, you will witness the results of more mindful, meaningful, and longer lasting relationships that are vital to the survival and success of your organization.