The Brain & the Brawn: Startup lessons from Bin Laden’s Capture
I just finished No Easy Day, the book, and Zero Dark Thirty, the movie, that recount the hunt and capture of Osama Bin Laden.
The book was written by and is the story of a brawny SEAL who was part of the team who eventually breached the Bin Laden compound in Abottabad. It is a fairly terrible read, but a good first hand account.
The movie centers on Maya, the brainy CIA operative who stubbornly and intelligently put together all the clues that led to the discovery of Bin Laden’s location.
It’s a fascinating story because it provides a small unvarnished glimpse into the world of counterterrorism, and because it highlights how teamwork benefits from skilled multidisciplinary work.
Maya (or Jen in the book) is an intense, fibrous woman who is single-mindedly focused on one goal: to catch Bin Laden. She exhibits the traits of a mastermind: someone of high intellectual ability who can read the clues better than her peers, and whose work ethic and lack of multi-pronged agenda provides the context for achieving results of strategic importance.
So she finds the most wanted man in the world.
But then, she has to sit back and wait (and harass) others to go get him.
And this is where the brawn comes in. Highly trained soldiers, bordering on the psychopathic. Men who live for the mission. In love with their weapons. Their tactics. Professional assassins. Those are the guys who get UBL.
The contrast between the brain and the brawn is so striking. You are bound to like more the element with which you personally identify most.
But at the end of the day, nothing would have been accomplished without one and the other relying on each other to get the result.
It’s funny because in startups there is the same kind of dichotomy.
Engineers tend to be brainy. They see everything through a “prove with data” paradigm. But also they are notorious cave dwellers. Have a hard time empathizing with normal people.
Sales people tend to be brawny. They see themselves as heros. Each quarter as a mission. Highly competitive. Loud and gregarious.
And when the two worldviews collide…
But those collisions are mostly avoidable. Harmony stems from a deep understanding that brain without brawn doesn’t get the job done, and that brawn without brain will get a job done, but most likely not the right job.
Don’t let one culture drown out the other or you won’t capture your UBL.