I contend thusly:
"General Orders for Sentries" is one of the finest written processes of all-time.
You can read the orders here, if you like, for the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces --
On the surface, it's a pretty simple thing, being a sentry. "Watch this area. Tell us if anything odd happens."
In practice, there's thousands of permeations of things that can go wrong when you're guarding an area, and a sentry failing in his duty could lead to -- literally -- thousands of people getting killed.
(Millions, even, if you consider the cascading effects of losing a war to a side like the Nazis, North Koreans, or Khmer Rouge.)
Here are the orders at a high level for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps --
1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guardhouse (or the Quarterdeck) than my own.
5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
6. To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Day, Officer of the Deck, and all Officers and Petty Officers of the watch only.
7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
9. To call the Corporal of the Guard or Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
11. To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.
As you can see right away, this is short enough to memorize and know by heart. In fact, the Navy and Marines drill on these. "It is very common for a drill instructor or (after boot camp) an inspecting officer to ask a question such as, "What is your sixth general order?" and expect an immediate (and correct) reply."
Where these orders really shine is in that there is a very true and elegant set of human nature. Consider the expanded version of Order #8, "To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder":
"While this is rather straightforward and obvious, keep in mind that a fire or disorder of some kind might be a deliberate distraction to keep you from observing some other disorderly or subversive activity. If you are certain that a fire is not meant to be a distraction, you should fight the fire if you have the means to do so. Remember, however, that your first responsibility is to report whatever is amiss."
Consider the sheer pragmatic brilliance of that paragraph.
Fires have been set as diversions since the dawn of history: Scipio Africanus famously destroyed the Numidian and Carthaginian forces by setting a night fire to King Syphax's camp, and the Carthaginians rushed to assist without checking if it was set by the enemy -- the Romans cut down 40,000 Carthaginian and Numidian forces that night. Such is the danger of a sentry turning to firefighting and not raising the alarm.
But, can you imagine what a senior officer would typically say to a sentry who doesn't fight a genuinely bad fire if it wasn't explicitly in the orders? "Sir, my duty is to the General Orders, I cannot fight the fire" -- this would bring hell down upon a soldier in any time, unless the duties are explicitly clear.
As such, the Orders acknowledge that you might fight a fire but only once you confirm it's not a deliberate distraction and only after it has been reported.
This seems like a good compromise between the ideal order which wouldn't be followed ("never abandon sentry duties; it's more important to be alert than have one more set of hands to fight a fire") and human nature (immediately start fighting the fire and allow your side to be ambushed).
The elaboration on Order #1 is good, too:
"When you are a sentry, you are "in charge." This means that no one—no matter what their rank or position—may overrule your authority in carrying out your orders. The only way that you may be exempted from carrying out your orders is if your orders are changed by your superior. For example, if your orders are to allow no one to enter a fenced-in compound, you must prevent everyone from entering, even if an admiral tells you it is all right for him or her to enter. The petty officer of the watch (or whoever is your immediate superior) may modify your orders to allow the admiral to enter, but without that authorization you must keep the admiral out. Situations such as this will not often, if ever, occur, but it is important that you understand the principles involved. It is also your responsibility to know the limits of your post. This information will be conveyed to you among your special orders. You must also treat all government property that you can see as though it were your own, even if it is not technically part of your assigned post."
The Orders aren't based in some sort of Platonic ideal of good sentry duties, but rather the most common conflicts and errors. What do you do if you're a sentry and a high-ranking officer demands to be admitted to somewhere? You report it to the petty officer, who can modify orders.
Because these orders are universally known, a high-ranking officer demanding an exception is the one who is doing something out of line -- this means that rogue forces with fake uniforms or single bad actors can't undermine critical areas, and also sets a clear precedent for what should happen, and how requests for exceptions to the rules are to be managed.
My friend Kai Zau (coauthor Gateless; we've done a number of commercial, scientific, educational, nonprofit projects together) -- he and I obsess over operations, communications, details, and how to get things done.
"General Orders for Sentries" seems to come up very often between us in conversation: it's a set of rules that collapses so small that it can be memorized and said on command, it covers all the general situations, it covers the most dangerous exceptions and where things go wrong, it squares with human nature and is actually achievable, and then it goes in greater detail that can be studied and trained in.
If you're interested in operations, I highly recommend you go read and study the whole Wikipedia page on it. While on the topic, the Code of the United States Fighting Force is a very worthwhile read, too. When your procedures and processes start to approach this level, you know you're doing something right.
Other odds and ends:
We're doing the GiveGetWin Tour 2015 again this year. Details to be released relatively shortly, starting 15 March in San Francisco. If you'd like to be involved, email me.
For early readers of my next book, I finished the complete rough draft towards the start of the last month. I'll send it along reasonably shortly after cleaning up two last large pieces that I know need a quick re-write and have scoped... I knew I had something big coming up, so I marched it hard to get it done before starting.
On that note, my apologies for delayed email replies lately -- I took one of the largest projects in my life, both in scope and in stakes... I've been all-in on that, but I'm getting some breathing room to catch up. Thanks.
History shows us that we should not play things halfway.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was Undisputed Ruler of Japan. He had brought all the Japanese generals under his loyalty, set an extremely durable and efficient legal structure, and had achieved more than anyone in Japanese history - rising from a peasant servant to the height of command.
Unsatisfied with the fastest and largest ascent in all of Japanese history, Hideyoshi wanted to conquer all of Korea and China. In the year 1597, he launched the Second Korean Campaign.
In the most desperate times, strong cultures produce great heroes - and Korean Grand Admiral Yi Sun-Sin rose to the challenge, shattering the Japanese naval forces and cutting the supply lines. The Japanese forces pinned down in Korea had land superiority, solid defensive fortifications, and better artillery. But the Ming China/Joseon Korean alliance was winning the gradual war of attrition after establishing naval superiority.
Toyotomi had won basically every engagement he'd fought in throughout history. A scuffling defeat here and there, but he had seemed blessed by the gods themselves. He was, naturally, furious at the inability of his forces to conquer Korea.
"People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." Thich Nhat Hahn.
Me: Dear beloved teacher, you said that we never respond the same way to the same situation twice, but I find myself repeating some patterns of behavior over and over again, even when I do not like the outcomes. The most difficult of these habits is responding with anger. I do not like the feeling of being angry and I know that it does not improve my relationships, but similar situations seem to perturb me every time. Why does this happen? Why is it so difficult for me to change this response?
Teacher: Dear student, if you are repeating patterns of behavior that harm you and your relationships, it is because you are not able to receive the insight that will help you transform them. To change any habit, you must be able to clearly and convincingly tell yourself why you want to transform it. And once you have a good reason to transform it, you must give yourself a suitable alternative. If you simply focus on stopping yourself from repeating the habit, you will not succeed, because you cannot fight yourself and win. You can only train yourself to respond in a way that you believe is better.
Anger can be a particularly difficult habit to break because the generation of anger blocks us from receiving insight. Anger is an indication that you perceive a threat to your well-being. Anger is just an expression of fear. In a the state of fear, your mind reverts to a primitive state where you are solely focused on survival. You have only two choices, you can run or you can fight, neither of which is usually the appropriate course of action.
What do we hope to achieve by generating anger? We seek to control the people and situations around us in an attempt to prevent future occurrences of the stimulus that we believe created the anger within us. The question you should ask yourself is, why does this particular stimulus perturb me? What do I fear losing? Did this stimulus threaten my ego? What beliefs and identities do I have associated with my ego? Did I misunderstand the situation? These are the insights you require to avoid similar perturbations in the future. But because we do not have sufficient tools to survive our own anger, we focus all our energies on controlling our surroundings rather than transforming ourselves.