Coffee House to Combat: 3 Tips To Execute Well Under Stress

I have never been a physical person. Not even close. One of my favorite stories was telling a colleague once that I was actually allergic physical exercise. He was close to donating to a charity before he realized I was joking. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I became fascinated by fight or flight responses. Something as simple as putting yourself into a new environment you have never been in before. This triggers a physiological response that drives a series of outcomes. Ones you cannot control and ones that have been built over eons of evolution. It makes you more alert, more creative, and you absorb more information. Basically it makes you better in the short term, and if you write down the result better in the long term as well. I started experimenting with this where I would take my laptop and work in a completely different location a few times a month. I would find a Starbucks I had never been to, or a cafe to eat and work. I was hooked. It was also about this time I started reading different books on leadership and business. Some of the best ones were written by former Navy SEAL’s talking about being in high stress combat situations. It is truly amazing what that situation does to force you to a positive outcome. I wondered what would happen if I went to the other end of the scale and instead of a cup of coffee, I tasted simulated combat. As it turns out you learn a whole lot about yourself and more importantly what it takes to be effective versus ineffective. These are the only two outcomes in combat and in business.

  1. Communication. Direct, Loud and Clear.

You may think this sounds easy but I assure you it is not. When your senses are being overwhelmed in every single way, you can lose track of what other elements of the team are doing in relation to you. Worst still is to lose sight of what leadership is doing and that can bring the whole operation to a halt. This is no different in business. We depend on those around us and they depend on us. We each play our part but communication is what binds it all together. Be direct, be loud and be clear. This means get to the point, say it multiple times, and be clear. Being clear means speaking in plain language to those around you about what you need and asking them what they need. This could also be about reminding them what they must do or they doing that for you. You have to do this constantly because you are reorienting yourself to move to the next phase and keep the momentum. So many things in business as in simulated combat are lost simply because one individual didn’t ask or wasn’t told clearly or both.

2. Stay Focused. Don’t Go Off Mission.

You must develop a mission plan before every exercise, one that is clear and one that has different phases but ultimately no more than two objectives. What this also does is set a framework for how the unit will operate and more importantly remind everyone what is out of scope or “off mission.” Without a solid mission plan a unit can find it self getting pulled into all sorts of skirmishes and become entirely reactive. They also leave themselves open to be tasked to do things they aren’t set up to do or shouldn’t be doing. In business we sometimes go off mission in order to support another organization or project but we must remind ourselves of what the original mission parameters and objectives are. If it doesn’t bring you closer to your own mission success and feels out of scope you must ask the question, should we be doing this? It can be tempting to crank out small wins only because they are in close physical proximity. However, as I observed it can doom the mission to failure as resources were spent going in directions you didn’t really need to go.

3. Don’t Be The Best. Be Adaptable. It’s Better.

Sometimes in order to operate at a certain level you have to narrow focus and specialize. This requires going very deep on a given skill level. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and it does make sense for some individuals and situations. What is true in combat that is also true in business however, is it doesn’t always go according to plan. This means in order to execute effectively you need to adapt. This is a mindset, and absolutely nothing more than that. One that can be refined with practice. When the situation changes and you must do something different you do it. This includes if it’s something you have never done, or never thought you could do. You can learn it, and more is lost by indecision than wrong decision. This means just do it. It’s possible you won’t be the best at it in that very instant but you are keeping momentum, and staying on mission. As in business just like combat, the enemy get’s a vote. If you chose not adapt and they did you will get crushed and may never even understand why.


This was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done. Far more uncomfortable than a Starbucks in a new part of town. It was also the most rewarding experience and I learned things about myself I didn’t know existed. I also built skills I didn’t think were possible. Deep down I also found a new level of appreciation for the people that do this sort of thing for a living. The men and women of our armed forces. They do these things every single day and we sometimes look at them like they are some different species of human being. The only difference between them and us is they wake up every day and chose to do that and for that I am grateful. As for me, I only got exposed to a small fraction of what they do. I’m a marketer not a Navy SEAL, but I do play one on TV.

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