Humans Are More Important Than Hardware

September 4, 2018 Updated: September 26, 2018

This is the first article in a five-part series on the “Special Operations Forces Truths.” The SOF Truths are five rules that are utilized as a guide for Special Operations units for strategic planning and vision. However, successful Special Operations soldiers also leverage these rules in their day-to-day activities.

Now, as more highly experienced and combat-tested SOF veterans are entering the business world than ever before, the five simple rules are being leveraged as force multipliers by leaders of cutting-edge industries to grow their people in a deliberate manner, on both a profession and a personal level.

If you or your organization is interested in becoming more agile, responsive, proactive, and effective than ever before, these are the Truths for you.

My first introduction to the “SOF Truths” was as a young non-commissioned officer in the Infantry who had hopes of surviving the deliberate chaos that I found myself in at the beginning of the Special Forces Qualification Course. Colloquially referred to as “the Q Course” by those who have volunteered to undergo the suffering required to earn their Green Beret, the course was designed to provide ongoing assessment of the student’s physical abilities, psychological strength, and intelligence.

Posters featuring the SOF Truths were prominently displayed in areas frequented by those in training. Cadres frequently referenced this bullet-point list of guidance, and students were expected to not just know them but to internalize them and put them into practice in their day-to-day lives.

The first of these SOF Truths that were drilled into the heads of both myself and legions of other aspiring SOF “operators” is that it is always the man, not his equipment, that will make the critical difference in any given operation: “Humans are more important than hardware.”

One of the main strengths of a special operations team, whether it is an Army Special Forces ODA or a Navy SEAL platoon, is that this small group of highly trained people, working together as a cohesive team, is more effective than a large group of standard-issue soldiers or sailors.

Yes, sometimes a sledgehammer can be the right tool for the job. But for delicate operations like brain surgery, you’re going to want a scalpel. The best and most expensive equipment in the world cannot compensate for a lack of highly trained and proficient personnel. No matter how cutting-edge a tool may be, it is worthless in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it; however, a highly trained individual with the intelligence and ability to “think outside the box” will never run out of ways to surprise you when presented with a complex problem and the authority to solve it in the best way he or she sees fit.

Obviously, the best equipment in the hands of the best people is the optimal situation. However, there hasn’t been a piece of equipment or software that isn’t vulnerable to failing at the absolutely most inopportune time.

A competent person can adapt, improvise, and overcome. When a tool or program breaks, it is out-of-commission until … well, until a properly trained person can fix it. This is the razor edge your organization must learn to straddle; over-reliance on a technological edge leads one to create a single point of failure, while allowing the cutting-edge performance skills of your most valuable assets to become dull with lack of use. Spending money on tech will never make up for lack of experience or motivation.

The best people in your organization simply aren’t replaceable. Hardware can neither reason nor show compassion; you have to invest time and money in building relationships and improving the individual.

In the Special Forces community I grew up in, you learn to train and plan like every piece of equipment is going to fail or betray you. Our equipment was not assessed and selected in the same way the individual was; equipment cannot demonstrate courage or perseverance, the ability to not just survive but thrive under pressure. Equipment may allow you to be more efficient, but you can’t replace the ability to make real-time adjustments on the fly as time and resources become reduced. A machine gun cannot be taught to consider the second- and third-order effects of its actions.

Obviously, a company simply cannot invest the time and resources required to assess and select personnel like a SOF unit can; it is much harder to keep the under-performers from crossing the threshold of your organization in the first place. You can employ some personality tests, but those will never compare to the battery of psychological screenings one undergoes at something like Special Forces Assessment and Selection. However, there are universal truths that can be yours if you begin to really believe that the humans in your organization are more important than your hardware.

Given the appropriate guidance and the correct set of internal values, the human being can adapt and adjust correctly to any given situation or condition. It’s not people first, it is “mission first, people always.” Focus on developing the individual and improving the team first, because you cannot issue excellence. But it can be earned, by those who are willing to seek it out. Empower your people to do just that, and you will never be disappointed.

Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. Follow him on Twitter at @EricksonPrime.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.