Gen. McChrystal: What Fighting Al Qaeda Taught Me About Running a Business

It turns out that modern warfare has quite a lot in common with modern business. 


Big Think Edge is a video-driven platform that catalyzes happiness and performance in professional environments by cultivating leadership, creativity, and self-knowledge. Learn more about Big Think Edge.

General Stanley McChrystal had to learn on his feet while fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. This was a new kind of warfare, with an enemy whose command structure was distributed rather than centralized. Used to a much more hierarchical command structure where leadership distributed information in a tightly controlled way, the U.S. Army had to learn — quickly — to adapt. 

The new, successful approach General McChrystal developed, a "Team of Teams," relied on a few key principles. Upon returning to civilian life, McChrystal discovered that these principles applied perfectly to the new challenges businesses face in our more fluid global economy. Companies were hungry to learn his secrets. Broadly speaking they are: 

  • Understand the New Working Environment: It's characterized by increased speed, the interconnectedness of everything, complexity, and unpredictability. 
  • A Team of Teams: The organization is a network of cells, each empowered to act autonomously, but working together toward a larger goal. 
  • Shared Consciousness: Everyone at every level of the team knows and shares the same set of goals. 
  • Adaptability: Be prepared to respond flexibly to minute-by-minute changes. 
  • These secrets, and more, form the basis of our Big Think Edge course on building teams in 21st century businesses:

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    Learn more about Big Think Edge and our masterclass on building teams in 21st century businesses. The masterclass will feature military leaders including Rob Roy, Chris FussellStanley McChrystal, and Eric Greitens.

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