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Gen. McChrystal: What companies face today is like war

Lauren Lyster

Retired four-star general Stanley McChrystal led U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and is known for developing and implementing the counter-insurgency strategy there. It’s just the set of knowledge and skills you might imagine are sought these days by...corporate executives? Well, that’s the theory behind McChrystal’s new book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, which is aimed at applying the challenges of war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to business.

“I think companies need [help from] anyone who has experienced working in a fast-moving, complex environment, which most of them are experiencing right now,” McChrystal tells Yahoo Finance in the accompanying video interview. “I have found that the environment we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan is actually startlingly similar to what companies face -- it’s very much appropriate.”

As an example, he uses the special ops task force he was commanding in 2004 which he says could execute almost perfectly yet was losing to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was more loosely trained and organized yet was able to adapt on the battlefield with incredible agility.

McChrystal found Al Qaeda was getting lucky, because the speed and interconnectedness of technology was occurring at a moment that allowed them to publicize and communicate about their moves on the battlefield, making them more effective. The general believes the challenges posed by the fast-changing environment on the battlefield are similar to what businesses are facing now.

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They are “trying to have three-to-five year plans, but find the environment is changing so fast that their own operations, which have been honed to be efficient, just aren’t adaptable enough,” he notes.

When it comes to adapting, it’s something McChrystal has personal experience with in his career, too. A 2010 Rolling Stone profile depicting McChrystal and members of his staff criticizing President Obama and members of his administration created a firestorm and ultimately ended the general’s military career. Obama fired him as the top commander in Afghanistan, and shortly after, McChrystal retired from the army altogether. He wrote in a 2014 op-ed that he felt he was depicted in a way that felt “as unfamiliar as it was unfair.”  In the accompanying video, he reacts to that experience and reveals how it informs the way he advises business leaders.

“You have to be transparent,” he says, “And when something happens, you can’t try to pretend it didn’t happen. You can’t put yourself down in a hole and say that’s a bad story or it’s not true or it’s going to go away. The reality is, it is there and you have to react to it, like I did.”

You can watch the full Yahoo Finance interview with Gen. Stanley McChrystal here.