Rorke Denver

It’s one thing to see connections is similar things, Grit in athletes for example. If you find something that works in one sport, people like Pete Carroll will try to get it to work in another.

It’s a different kind of treat if you find connections in different things. That’s part of the appeal of what Rorke Denver writes about in Damn Few. There are things in the Navy SEAL training that can apply to a range of situations. I noticed at least four.

  • Why to roll play and run simulations.
  • Conditioning for luck.
  • The support great work needs.
  • Wait. Wait. Wait. Go!


1/ Role play. “At the range, we have special malfunction drills for each make and model of weapon. We load a dummy round inside the magazines that will cause the gun to stop firing. You never know when that bad round is coming through. Now, how quickly can you clean the jam and get back into the fight?”

Tim Kennedy showed the same thing on Instagram.

A video posted by Tim Kennedy (@timkennedymma) on May 4, 2016 at 12:16pm PDT

This role play is valuable because it turns abnormal situations into normal ones. Denver wrote that when it came to shoot someone, he was so conditioned to the act of shooting at bodies (or at least the silhouette shape) that it didn’t affect him.

Good simulations don’t have to involve guns. We can create them anytime there is an unknown outcome that we want to prepare for.

Gene Kranz, a flight director from the Mercury through Apollo programs wrote about the simulations they did to get into space, take people through space, and land on the moon.

  • Once Kranz arrived at his office and was told he had ‘been in a car accident’ on the way and had to sit out the training runs that day. Everyone else stepped into a new role.
  • In another simulation a communication director based in Hawaii ‘had a heart attack’ and only after the simulation was over did Kranz learn it wasn’t true.
  • On the final day of simulations before the Apollo 11, a day that typically ended on a high note to encourage self belief, simulation threw Kranz’s crew  error code “1202.” Kranz ordered an abort. It was the wrong call, but a good simulation. That code, which no one had seen before, came up during the actual lunar descent.

Phil Knight saw the value of roll play  (after a few missteps).

Before Nike, Knight started a company called Blue Ribbon Sports and they imported shoes. Knight needed help. He talked Bill Bowerman – his college coach – into joining the venture. “Sure,” Bowerman told him, “come over and we’ll draw up the papers.” Knight arrived at Bowerman’s house to find Bowerman, his wife, and his lawyer all there. Knight recalls Bowerman’s wife tilting her head and “gave a pitying look. Boy they’re going to skin you alive,” she said.

Luckily for Knight, they didn’t. This meeting and a few in Japan with the shoe manufacturers taught him he should roll play his meetings. He did, writing that “Like two actors running lines, we went through every possible argument.” Sometimes he needed it. Sometimes he didn’t.

It’s not easy, and it requires going deep. “Simulation is no substitute for investing, since most mistake in investing are psychological.” wrote Tren Griffin.

The military has dummy rounds. NASA has a Simulation Supervisor. Phil Knight had someone to verbally joust with. The better the dress rehearsal, the better the performance.

2/ Conditioning for luck. “Fairness is an irrelevant concept in war. Screwing with the trainees’ expectations—forcing them to deal with failure, irrationality, and unpredictability—is a vital part of training SEALs. Things won’t be fair on the real-life battlefield, where the stakes are infinitely higher.”

If #1 Role Play, was about training for things you can control. Then #2 is about training for things you can’t control. It’s about exposure to luck. During training Denver calls it “random acts of instructor violence.”

The violence isn’t a literal physical assault. That has no place in SEAL training. But those extra PT evolutions sure can feel like abuse. “What did we do wrong?” the trainees want to know after some especially grueling evolution. “Nothing,” the instructor shrugs. “Just do it again.” And again. And again. It’s brutal. But it does send a message:

Luck is a hard thing to pin down, to point at and say there it is!

Part of it is a problem with the detection. It’s bad equipment (You and me!).

Jack Schwager said “I’ll have good luck too. The bad ones you really notice. The good ones you’re smart on the bad ones are bad luck.” It’s the ability to attribute success to your smarts and failure to external faults.

Luck, Michael Mauboussin consistently points out, can be good or bad, can be large or small. Sometimes we just get lucky. The stats for this blog are a good example. Part of the reason many or few people read it is what else is published. If it’s a slow week, more readers come here. If something bigger happens, less.

What the heck do we do about luck?

Acknowledge it, know that it affects your results, but focus on the process.

Half of soccer is luck. Economists and Coaches agree. What do the latter – like Pete Carroll –  do? They focus on the process.

Knight put it this way, “Luck plays a big role…Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome.”

3/ Support to be great. “Standing on the beach in a tight, quiet circle with Ro, Big D, Cams, Lope, and the others, I talked about balance instead. “Before we step on that bird tomorrow and begin this campaign,” I said, “we need to be sure everything at home is taken care of. Your finances are in order. Your families have what they need.”

If you want to do extraordinary things, like write best-selling books, be in professional sports, or be a Navy SEAL you must have support to do it.

In episode 033, Failure is Not an Option we talked about this idea, around the 21:00 mark.

To recap here.  When Malcolm Gladwell wrote Outliers, he wanted the 10K hours idea not to be an instruction but a warning. If you need 10K to be great, then there are all kinds of things you can’t do.

“To me the point of 10,000 hours is: if it takes that long to be good, you can’t do it by yourself. If you have to play chess for 10 years in order to be a great chess player, then that means that you can’t have a job, or maybe if you have a job it can’t be a job that takes up most of your time,” Gladwell told Stephen Dubner.

Gene Kranz, our NASA flight director agreed. “Behind every great man is a woman – and behind her is the plumber, the electrician, the Maytag repairman, and one or more sick kids. And the car needs to go into the shop.”

The Wright brothers never married. They lived at home where their sister (and then hired help) helped out. Robert Kurson‘s pirate hunters had marriages that ended because someone wanted to be an 10K hour expert. Jay Leno told  Judd Apatow that he kept his requirements to a minimum so he could do comedy. Leno tried to minimize the stakeholders becuase he couldn’t answer to them and become a commedian.

In Denver’s podcast with Brett McKay he said

“When you first start the training program demands are full-time with very little time off. When you show up with your first team you’re going into multiple rounds of advanced training. Then you’re going to deploy and chase the nation’s enemies. It’s very very taxing on families. You have to have an extremely strong gal that’s going to make it through that experience.”

You need support to be great.

4/ Wait. Wait. Wait. Go! “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.” Napoleon Bonaparte

Denver didn’t want to have any part of Act of Valor. He told them “no.” Twice. Then he started to think about it and talk about it. He changed his mind. Denver writes that he wanted to inform people about what being a Navy SEAL is about.

Part of any success in life is getting the timing right. Warren Buffett says it’s waiting for the right pitch.  It’s having the patience to wait, wait, wait and then go.

Louis C.K.  was patient enough to make Horace and Pete.

Gary Vaynerchuk warns people that it’s going to be a slog. Too many people, Vaynerchuk says, are  “very impatient  in the first twenty-four hours out of the box. They’re looking for fast and cheap dollars.” It doesn’t work like that. You need to be patient, persist, and have grit.

We’ll give the final word to Steven Pressfield:

“The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a move or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.”

Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, you might like my podcast: or book.


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