I can still remember the basic tactical drills I was taught at the Infantry School 30 years ago. Whether it was elementary battle procedure, orders format (SMESC — Situation, Mission, Execution, Support, Command & Communications), time estimate, or the combat estimate, they were drilled into me until they became second nature. When it came time to apply them during exercises or on live operations, they would come to the fore and I would be able to apply them in a heartbeat, no matter what the circumstances. They were always an anchor for me and everyone else when we were under stress, fatigued, and needing to find a way forward.

The military has learned the hard way what any highly successful leader or artist has learned, that we need to develop the “muscle memory” or basic drills and routines to the point where they become a habit, regardless of circumstances. Classical musicians learn the basic scales and chords until they have them imprinted in their brains. Jazz musicians learn all the great solos and memorize them note-for-note, so that when they have to improvise, they can string together quotes and variations on known sequences. It’s the same for artists, scientists, and all other creators. This basic discipline undergirds all great accomplishments.

Business can also benefit from this drills-based approach. Creative processes and innovation can be systematized to the point where they become second nature to the enterprise. The same goes for seeking out new customers, conquering new markets, and protecting existing positions. Great business accomplishments are built up from a basic vocabulary of processes and “drills.”

Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

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