I did not surrender idealism when our only child was born, but rather I came to see the world and its strengths, flaws, and dangers specifically in terms of her future. Before the birth of my daughter, I entertained all kinds of ideas as to how the world is and how it should be, and all the various reasons why. And much like Don Quixote, I tilted at many a windmill. But when our child was born I was able to stop looking at the world through the biases of my own beliefs and ambitions and to begin to see the world she would live in.
When I finally stepped back from my own path to look at the world as it related to her future, I did so with the eyes of a seasoned investor entrepreneur and former soldier. I looked with a mind trained to recognize the potential for Return on Investment, to model Risk and Uncertainty, and to design courses of action which realize returns in hostile environments. And it quickly became apparent to me the greatest threat to the future of our now three-year-old daughter was not competing for ideologies or politics, a clash of religions or civilizations, nor was it a nuclear-armed rogue state or stateless terrorism.
The real threat is the ever-expanding pool of disaffected youth, peoples, and communities available to the siren call of the enemies of freedom, the very freedom we who are blessed with seem to so carelessly take for granted. The more specific concern which came to mind was the ever-increasing pool of those willing to support the modern Totalitarianism known as Fundamentalism, and this even while the standard of living for most of Earth’s seven billion inhabitants is improving.
That led to a couple of other questions which had to be asked and answered. The first is, why are so many of the world’s people willing to kill and die for so little? And the second is, what, if anything, can we do about it?
In pursuit of an answer to these questions, it became clear to me we could be blinded by and argue from cultural, religious, moral, or political ideology until the world came down around us, or we could face the uncomfortable truth. And truth is, with a few exceptions which are only concerned with chaos or power, so many are willing to die because the past, present, and future does not possess the same potentials for their children as it does for ours.
This led to one further question. Why is it that our children do not possess the same potential for the future? Though I can already hear the arguments, the answer is simple. These peoples have yet to be folded into the world of globalization, which does not mean American, European, or even Chinese Capitalism, or the Corporatism which is now dominant and which seems to have reduced Capitalism to a bad word.
Globalization is nothing more than the now nearly global community that is becoming ever more integrated, becoming a single whole of myriad cultures and peoples and integrated economic engines. With the inexorable rise in population densities, and whether we are comfortable with it or not, the pace at which the world is becoming smaller, globalization is occurring, with boundaries between peoples becoming increasingly thinner and less obvious, is accelerating. And unless we wish to wall communities off from globalization, to set them up as amusement parks to showcase the Noble Savage, to deal with their own problems until such time as they become ours, this trend towards integration will continue unabated, as will the volume of those willing to fight the system, to bring modernity down.
And in the world of globalization, so many are disaffected due to the fact they have little incentive to support or defend a system they believe they have almost no part in, a system that has become so complex and fast-paced it is almost unknowable. As the population continues to increase, as technology and communications continue to advance, as business and finance continue to evolve beyond classical models to quantum models, more and more become dissatisfied, and not just in those parts of the world where SOF operates, but even in the advanced and modern countries of the world.
Globalization is an exceedingly complex system, one that embraces both the Mind of the System and the Mind of the Disruptor and in so doing empowers the Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist to ensure the economy continues to evolve, expand and improve. The now nearly global economic system is about improving asset valuations and creating new wealth through the application of creative destruction, by cannibalizing old ways of doing things with new ways which are more efficient.
Complexity, application of both minds, and the intentional destruction of traditional ways of doing things have led many of those born and raised in Capitalist systems and with Western educations to fear globalization. Imagine how much greater is the fear for those who live in the underdeveloped parts of the world where there is little or no Capitalism or Western education, where leaders have walled their people off from the knowledge necessary to benefit from the modern world. It is no wonder so many are willing to listen and to support those calling for a poorer, simpler, though totalitarian, way of life.
Much of the blame rests firmly on the shoulders of the Western (Modern) world. Exhausted from WWII, the modern world abandoned its colonies, and in a single-minded effort to win the Cold War, we created a welfare state of the undeveloped parts of the world. Then, when we had won this war, we simply walked away again, leaving the local peoples to fend for themselves in a world they were not prepared for and in most cases could not understand.
Meaning, we did virtually nothing to transfer business knowledge and develop local economic infrastructures or to impart the entrepreneurial and investor skills required of participating members of modernity, of globalization. For an example more relevant to the conflict my ODA is now a part of, we didn’t back Charlie Wilson, et al when the costs would have been almost infinitely less than this now eleven-year war.
Understanding this led me to look to identify a possible solution, to identify those who were pursuing solutions, and to see where there might be room for addition or refinement of these efforts. Having been a corporate executive, technology entrepreneur, and investor, having previously served ten years in the Army, and having spent time with many a former Green Beret in the mountains of Idaho and Washington as a child and teenager, the answer seemed clear.
We needed to enhance and further enable the entrepreneurial spirit at the tactical level, right in those villages where the enemy was and is recruiting. And the force to do it, the force that was already in those villages, tasked with knowledge transfer, and more importantly, with relationship building, was SF.
Of course, this would be no light undertaking and would require the introduction of yet more training for certain members of the Regiment, a Regiment already stretched thin, already tasked with a large number of secondary specialties. As with any new business line, I knew that if this capability was to be added it would have to firstly enhance existing efforts and utilize existing resources, and secondly would have to alleviate and directly address real-world, in-the-fight needs. And in pursuit of an understanding of how this might be added to the SF Curriculum and tasking and how it would be applied and realized on the ground to the support of the greater mission, some additional themes had to be further developed.
First, thriving economies do not come into existence as the result of centralized and top-down conventional thinking and processes, or through large-scale wealth transfer, or in environments of pooled assets and wealth. The Mind of the System, of government, of Corporatism, strives to sustain the status quo and therefore works to control resources and growth, to pool assets and wealth, and to stifle the innovative capacities which are critical to the creation and distribution of wealth across a population.
Second, an economy can only be created and sustained through the boundless energies and limitless creativity of the people living at the expansive, chaotic edges of a system, employing the Mind of the Disruptor to establish new assets and wealth. This means, though government and corporations are essential to absorbing and enabling innovation and productivity at the edges, they are not the driving force of a healthy economy.
Third, governance and security arise only from a people willing to sacrifice themselves for demonstrable, short, medium, and long-term improvements in their standard of living. This requires an existing and improving economic base the community and its leaders are committed to improving through ongoing governance and security improvements. And what this means is that improvements in one cannot wait for improvements in the other, as all three, governance, security, and economics, must be developed concurrently.
Fourth, the organization trained to employ the Mind of the System, and the Mind of the Disruptor to promote stability and development in the most dangerous parts of the world is SF. Yet, though the members of the Regiment are skilled at governance and security, and many of the economic development resources have been put in place, Green Berets are lacking in the business and investing knowledge and experience essential to set the conditions for internally driven, sustainable local economic development.
When combined, these thoughts led to the realization SF could add Entrepreneur and Venture Capital training to its already extensive capacities with minimal investment and disruption. And should such occur, the Green Beret’s mission of freeing the oppressed of the world would be greatly enhanced. So, at the age of forty-one, and after a seventeen-year break in service, I returned to the Army to serve as a Green Beret with the purpose to better understand how these capabilities could and should be added. And after completing the Special Forces Qualification Course, I drafted and put forward a proposal for the Economic Development Program which was provided to the Commandant of the Warrant Officer Institute and the Command Warrant for Special Forces.
Mind of the System vs Mind of the Disruptor
Before we discuss how VC and Entrepreneur training would be added to the Regiment’s capabilities and practices, how the Economic Development Program would be structured, phased in, and operated (which will be the topic for the third article), we must first fully understand the Mind of the System and the Mind of the Disruptor. This is due to the fact fostering capacity and stability in those underdeveloped parts of the world where SF operates requires a comfort employing both minds seamlessly. And the reason for this is the interplay between the two minds shapes every aspect of our existence and in particular the world of economics, finance, and globalization.
The nature of a healthy and expanding System is that it is always composed of, challenged by, and made possible through two intertwined yet quite distinct and conflicting minds. These are the Mind of the System and the Mind of the Disruptor, and though these two are at constant war, one without the other cannot long survive. This is because only the active conflict and mutually supportive nature of these two minds allow for asset creation, management, and the constructive destruction, the cannibalization of investments, necessary to the sustainment and improvement of institutions, ecosystems, and civilizations.
Neither of these minds can be taught but only refined, and their differences, sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious, are always quite substantial, which is why the two are almost never resident within the same individual or organization. It is this, that the two minds exist together only within an extremely limited number of individuals and institutions, which makes it so difficult to intuitively grasp the role and purpose of each. However, if we are to understand the benefit and limitations of each and to know how they collectively create the world we live in we can begin by understanding the major differences.
The first, the Mind of the System, is an inwardly focused, defensive Mind seeking sustainability and growth by addressing Risk at the lowest energy expenditure possible. This results in:
- Large, centrally driven, or totalitarian systems emphasizing increases in size and scope or absolute control in order to realize efficiencies across multiple domains;
- Well defined roles and responsibilities based on highly specialized and individualized skills and functionality;
- Pooling of increasing amounts of assets, wealth, and decision making within the control of a limited few; and
- Rigidity, vulnerability, and dissipation derived from over-specialization and from the burdensome complexity and costs inherent to maintaining a large or totalitarian system.
The second, the Mind of the Disruptor, is an outwardly focused, offensive Mind which exploits inefficiencies to create new assets and wealth and to rapidly reach higher sustainable systemic energy states. This results in:
- New assets which expand to replace existing systems or which are folded into an existing system for improved efficiencies and management;
- Flexible skills and abilities which lead to new roles – responsibilities based on entirely new specializations and functionality, allowing for the evolution of capabilities;
- Expansion in the greater base of assets, wealth and skilled decision-makers and a broader pool of beneficiaries and asset holders; and,
- Fluidity, strength, and accumulation derived from the ability to quickly adjust to complexities and from the cannibalization and reinvestment of inefficient assets.
An economic and financial analog for the Mind of the System is the Stock Market and the surrounding Investment Banking and Brokerage industries (Corporatism & Government – Regular) and their focus on publicly traded financial instruments (known entities with extensive operating histories and relationships). For the Mind of the Disruptor, we can look to the Private Equity Market and in particular its Venture Capital and Seed & Angel investors (Start-up Companies & Special Forces – Irregular) which focus on new companies and financial instruments (unknown entities with limited operating histories and relationships).
Where the first is responsible for the defense of and improvements in the valuation of existing assets, the second is responsible for establishing and improving the valuation of new assets. The System works with known entities in well-developed ecosystems, employing standards and best practices while seeking marginal returns on large investments. The Disruptor works with unknown entities not yet part of an existing or emerging ecosystem, employing assets, resources, and relationships in innovative new ways while seeking large returns on small investments.
A direct analog for the Special Forces Regiment would be the:
Mind of the System (Investment Bank) – Group & Battalion – employing doctrinal operations, resources, models, and metrics to ensure sustainment and moderate expansion and return on investment in the overall Area of Responsibility;
Mind of the Disruptor (Venture Capital Fund) – Company & ODA – employing dynamic, situation and resource availability dependent operations, models, and metrics to establish and expand stability and to realize a substantial return on investment (sic, mission success) at lower input volumes and costs and with greatly accelerated rates of return in the Area of Operations.
The greatest strength of the Regiment and what once made ODAs unique in the world of military units and Special Operations Forces was the fact the Green Beret historically encompassed both these minds. However, in the post-Cold War Era, the era of the 18 Series Branch, the balance between the two has swung steadily towards the System. This trend has not abated. And the inevitable result of this progression, if allowed to continue, will ultimately be a rigid and static organization incapable of meeting its mandate of freeing the oppressed peoples of the world.
This is because, though still requiring Diplomatic, Information, Military. and Economic power, the War on Oppression is now almost solely about establishing conditions for local, micro-economies to develop and expand, about integrating with the globalized world. And that is not something the Mind of the System is designed for. The System is not capable of the task because it is the nature of Systems to sustain themselves as they are, and a System that is appropriate for one is oftentimes inappropriate for another. Meaning the only Mind capable of the task is that of the Disruptor, tempered with and enabled by the Mind of the System. This means that if we are to empower the next, increasingly globalized generation with the same potentials we must rebalance the collective SF mind.
The good news is the rebalancing of the SF Mind will not require a rewrite of who the Green Beret is or what he does and how he does it. Nor will it take much time or be a generational change. It does mean where we now mostly pay lip service to the importance of unconventional thinkers, we will have to early identify and promote those who possess and develop both the Mind of the System and the Mind of the Disruptor. And where we now spend freely (money, energy, and blood) with little or no thought to Return on Investment (second and third-order effects) we must begin to think like Venture Capitalists and emphasize empowering the individual and realizing ROI at the very entry-level and in the dangerous parts of the world.
The Two Minded Green Beret
Of course, there are the inevitable arguments that arise against such an idea as adding VC and Entrepreneur training to the Regiment, mostly related to how this is not the role for the Green Beret on the ODA. Many argue the role of SF is purely military in nature and should not and does not include any of the other six elements of national power. While a more direct argument is this is the role of all the various and myriad agencies and organizations whose mandates are infrastructure, governance, and economic development. What is the point of a development-focused Green Beret if there already exist organizations, resources, and bodies of practice which address what is being recommended in this series of articles?
Though there are many arguments that could be brought to bear, and examples of how these beliefs are no longer valid in the Post Cold War – Post 9/11 world, I will focus my response in this article to three counterarguments.
- Firstly, the primary role of the Green Beret is relationship building at the very early stage, entry-level, which requires the application of both Minds, as applied to realize a shared vision of the future and commitment to such;
Secondly, NGOs, Agencies, and other organizations are themselves but direct extensions of the existing, greater System and as such are not capable of establishing disruptive new systems. Thirdly, in the under or undeveloped parts of the world, the role of the Green Beret is to set the conditions such that disruptive new systems arise or existing systems may evolve and begin the process whereby higher-level assets can get involved and bring their many resources to bear.
Though many of the people we work with are uneducated, they are not unintelligent, and many are highly intelligent. When we ask them to stand up and fight, to train with us, sacrifice their lives for us, they are not fooled by empty or false promises. The former colonial powers are notorious in the former colonies for not keeping their promises, of using the local fighters to fight their wars, and then leaving them with nothing but instability and a force highly trained to do nothing but fight. Of course, they will work with us, we roll in with wads of funds and their governments get subsidized by the US. But do we form real, lasting, and trusted relationships this way, the kind that we could put our own lives in their hands? Without demonstrating how they can personally, financially, and economically benefit from working with us what kind of relationship do we establish, and is it the kind that supports the interests of the modern world, or the kind that will cost us vastly more in the future?
What happens to this highly trained fighting force once we leave, not having trained them also in how to support and why to support local business and to develop and foster entrepreneurship? What happens when they themselves, no longer subsidized by the US, have nowhere else to turn to earn a living, but to extorting the very same people they defended along with us? Without some training in business and how to use the Mind of the Disruptor constructively, we cannot hope they will simply lay down their arms and know what else to do to feed their family. We are too often blinded by the options we have available in our own developed countries which provide vastly more opportunities to our men and women who once trained to and fought on our behalf.
Only when the individual understands the economic advantages and personal freedoms my child has, came from, and are extended by the same sacrifices our own people made and are making. When they understand it was and is our defense and support of the entrepreneur and investor and not the central government, which makes our country so successful.
This is when we develop real entanglement of purpose, interest, only then will the local people begin the process, many times by putting themselves and their families in real danger, of creating stability and the conditions for sustainable systems to arise. All of which is critical before system-based assets can get involved.
If we lead with NGOs, CA, USAID, State Department, and other System based assets before enough knowledge transfer and development has occurred all we generally create is another welfare state, or worse, prop up ineffective or abuse regimes. Welfare states tend to only perpetuate conflicts as there is no incentive on the part of the state, to win. If they win, the checks dry up, the current elite are no longer supported by U.S. dollars.
Before the immense resources of the System can be brought to bear we have to provide an alternative reason to win, develop the conditions and transfer the knowledge such that actual, non-welfare state, economies exist, even if only in nascent form. An expanding economy, and the benefit in the growth of such spread amongst a large enough slice of the population, is the only real incentive to aggressively pursue the end of a conflict (sic, sacrifice two of your four sons). And that requires the judicious application of both Minds.
Just as in our advanced economies, it is not government agencies or NGOs or the Mind of the System which create, drive, evolve or sustain the economy, though they certainly play an important role. It is the collection of individuals, each with Mind of the Disruptor derived innovative business ideas and the energy to make them a reality, that is the real driving force of economic development. There can be no doubt the thinking, resources, knowledge, relationships and protection of the System is required for success, but this does not come into account until a certain degree of due diligence and development has occurred.
The intelligence and power of these System assets and the individuals who represent them is not in understanding what needs to come into existence or be supported, but rather in knowing which resources are available and how to apply them once the right entities and individuals to support have been identified. And at this entry-level, it is the Green Beret in the community, at the very base level, who is conducting that due diligence and identifying how supporting such local entities and individuals will meet tactical and strategic needs. And it is the SF Operator, building relationships with local individuals and Host Nation counterparts, who is setting the conditions for the larger, more resourced entities to get involved and take things to higher levels of development and stability.
I am sure my thinking is wrong, that it is all far more complex than I am capable of understanding. I am certain there are those out there, far more intelligent than I, who have the mixed basket of right answers. But since the birth of my child, since becoming a father, I cannot stop thinking like a father. As a father, I don’t care about all those ethereal and higher ideals and beliefs, about ideology or politics. All I care about is the future for my child.
And when I look in the eyes of the fathers here, I see the very same desire for a better future for their children and telling them to fight with and for me is not enough to build a real, sustainable, and trusted relationship on. I have to be willing and able to use the Mind of the Disruptor when applying Mind of the System assets and resources, to establish or improve the local economy which in turn improves the standard of living for the local father who is standing next to me as the bullets and RPGs fly around us.
Reprinted With Permission: Irregular Warfare and the Two Minds of the Venture Capital Green Beret. Small Wars Journal, June 2012.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on May 16, 2019.
E.M. Burlingame is a Silicon Valley techpreneur and later Private Equity investor and Investment Banker with emphasis on very early-stage technology companies. Having recently completed active duty service with 1st BN 1st Special Forces Group, E.M. is now serving with 20th. E.M. is the founder of the Honos Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering local entrepreneurship in violence repressed areas, and Founder and Managing Director of Emerio Group, an early-stage investment advisory. Following a degree in Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis at Norwich, he is now pursuing Ph.D. studies in Interdisciplinary Engineering, with an emphasis on Computational Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.