Technology Startups As Military Special Forces

Anyone who works in a remotely corporate environment has no doubt heard a bunch of (often ridiculous) military metaphors describing business-as-usual. We’re divided into “squads” and talk about “strategic thinking” and “tactical mistakes”. We develop “mission statements” (more about that later) and managers demand that we “go in for the kill”, all the while referring to their top executives as their “Generals” and modeling the hierarchy of their companies around the command structures seen in the military. While a lot of this is just the strange glorification of business (and war), it turns out that some of it makes a lot of sense (on a very metaphorical level), and might just be evolving right along with military tactics. John Robb has done some amazing work analyzing the application of open source concepts to warfare, I’m going to do something like the opposite and look at applying special forces operating concepts to technology startups.

I recently finished reading Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice, by (Vice Admiral) William H. McRaven, who credited as organizing and executing the mission that brought down Osama bin Laden. He is now the Commander of US Special Operations Command, so he’s somewhat of an authority on the subject. While reading the book (which is a really interesting read in its own right, I highly recommend it), I couldn’t help but notice a lot of corollaries between what I was reading and the structure and function of tech startups (and perhaps smaller units within larger technology companies). Let’s look at how Special Operations Warfare compares to working at a startup.


Ready Player One — Ernest Cline (Book Review)

NOTE: I am fully aware that at times in the review below, I sound like a ridiculous book-critic or something. I do not care. Also, links to Amazon contain my affiliate id.

Ready Player One

A few weeks ago I attended the New York TimesTimesOpen Open Source Science Fair on behalf of Automattic/ As part of my “thank you” bag, I got a copy of Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. I left it on my bedside table in a stack of other books which I’d thus far neglected to start, let alone finish (not to mention all the unopened titles on my Kindle).


That Feeling of Loss

City of Golden Shadow River of Blue Fire Mountain of Black Glass Sea of Silver Light

Am I the only one that has that feeling of loss or loneliness when I finish a good book? (or in this case, four good books?)

I’ve been reading the “Otherland” series, by Tad Williams for about 3 years now (4?), progressively acquiring each of the books in the series, then re-reading the ones before it so that I get the whole story. In doing this, I have obviously “spent a lot of time” with Renie, !Xabbu, Sellars, Sorensen, Ramsey, Orlando, Fredericks and all the other characters in the books. Now that I’ve finished them all – it’s over. I feel like I’ve lost a whole group of friends.

It’s strange how you can develop such an attachment to characters of a book which are completely ficticious. Personally, I think this comes partially from my history on the Internet. I have spent so much time online that the characters in a book are often more realistic, more “detailled” in their background, descriptions and actions than other people who I have spent hours discussing things with, worked on entire projects and laughed over common jokes.

With the detailed writing of professionals like Tad Williams, I often actually know more about the personality, physical appearance and mental processes of the characters in the books that I read, than I do about the people I meet on the ‘net.

The only up-side of finishing the Otherland series is that now I can finally read “Google Hacks”, the book that I wrote a small section of. I’ve had my complimentary copy of the book (from O’Reilly) for a few months now, but haven’t had a chance to read it because I was too busy trapped in Otherland and the Grail Network (read the book if you have no idea what I’m talking about here :).

I will strongly recommend Otherland (yes, all 4,000-ish pages of it) to anyone who likes science fiction, and especially if you can deal with the idea of fully-immersive virtual reality – it really is a treat.