Jocko Willink


Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

In episode #073 of his podcast, Jocko Willink answered questions from the internet. It was another two hours chock full of good advice.

What I like so much about Jocko’s podcast is that he uses the lens of war to see the human condition. This isn’t that unlike Charlie Munger speaking about the Psychology of Human Misjudgment or Daryl Morey explaining how to assemble an NBA basketball team. Each has to account for how psychological principles and a range of outcomes affects their decision making. Good processes – I think – are domain independent.


1/ How not to overreact. The first questioner asks if Jocko has to think about not overreacting. He says;

“I would say at this point it’s fairly ingrained, I don’t overreact to stuff anymore.”

“In order to move in that direction picture what a situation looks like from the outside, what do I look like?”

Avoiding overreaction to a situation takes practice. Jocko has years of ‘reps’ with soldiers, businessmen, and even his own children. Doing something over and over is a great way to build a skill.

Jim O’Shaughnessy and Jeff Annello also spoke to the value of repetitions.

Controlling your actions also requires detachment. In the podcast, Jocko and Echo Charles compare it to watching tape like sports teams do. You need to be able to see things from another point of view. In his book about Charlie Munger, Tren Griffin comes back to the idea of detachment again and again. Munger has succeeded because he’s able to detach from the crowd and his biases.

In a podcast with Tim Ferriss, Willink said they used simulated firefights. “What we did was put them under extraordinary pressure where to fail to detach and step up and away from the problem would result in failure.”

The Harvard Negotiation Project calls detachment “the third stance.” Imagine what another person would see if they were watching a situation. Jocko and Echo also compare it to being above a maze. From there you can see how all the parts interact. Detachment is a key part of accurate empathy.

This idea is simple but not easy.

Jocko said that the situation of the United passenger being dragged off the plane was an example of a failure to detach. If you want to help in a situation like this, says Jocko, do so in a way that helps the people involved remove themselves from the storm of distortion. Get them to detach.

2/ Dichotomies.

  • New leaders need to balance humility (I don’t know everything) with preparation (but I’ll learn as much as I can).
  • To implement a decentralized command, allow subordinates to lead a project but within an area where you won’t lose strategic ground or have them lose face.
  • Work can be fun and serious at the same time but leaders should set boundaries. Jocko told his soldiers ‘no jokes on the radio and no jokes in the slides’. Those areas were set aside to be serious.

Finding balance is hard. If you’re unsure how to balance two opposite things, identify where an asymmetrical payoff exists. Jocko explained, “You tell a good joke, it gets you 2 credits. You tell a joke that’s bad it’s negative 39.” If the risk/reward ratio is too high move toward the other end.

3/ Grit. Around here we like Grit and so does Jocko. Patrick O’Shaughnessy wrote:

“I learned through experience this year that growth and discomfort go hand-in-hand. When faced with almost any choice, I took the harder option whenever I could.”

In the field of education teachers are taught that students learn best when the information is in their “zone of proximal development.” A fancy term for ‘sweet spot.’ Jocko also believes in the Goldilocks; not-too-easy but not-too-hard approach. He said, “The attitude of ‘we’re crushing it’ is probably an indicator that you’re not doing the best job.” In that case, things are too easy.

Of course, you don’t want things to seem impossible. In a children’s book I read to my kids the author made the distinction between things that are hard and things that take a long time. Leaders can create a Goldilocks zone but individuals can create one for themselves. This is what Jocko has done:

“Of course I come up short. What do I do when those things happen? I keep going…Worn down isn’t beaten and frustration isn’t going to kill me. When I do come up short that’s okay because I just learned one more thing that’s going to get me over the top.”

4/ Ego. Someone asks Wilink how to manage people that try to outperform you. You’ve got a good problem on your hands, says Jocko, “The more people you can bring on your team that out perform you the better you’re going to do.” If you aren’t willing to hiring people that do better work than you then the problem is “100% ego. ”

Successful operators hire people smarter than them.

Thanks for reading,

A full version of this post is available to subscribers of Mike’s Notes.

14 thoughts on “Jocko Willink”

  1. […] How to do it? Start a blog because writing is a form of thinking. “Writing is refined thinking,” wrote Stephen King. “I think clear writing and clear thinking are synonymous,” said David Salem. “By writing the notes and putting them in the podcast and thinking about which direction I’m going to go – I’ve learned it better,” said Jocko Willink. […]


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