Military entrepreneurs: not an oxymoron

By training men and women to solve dangerous problems creatively, the military is contributing to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor / File
In this 1998 file photo, Recruit Jamie Ronan waits with fellow Marine recruits in Parris Island, S.C., during The Crucible: 54 hours of intensive marching, drilling and problem solving. Recruits learn to help each other and use each other's strengths to succeed – skills every entrepreneur needs.

At first blush, the military as an incubator of entrepreneurs may not seem to parse. After all, one might ask, isn't the military about the chain of command and following orders? Rather than individual action, don't military units focus on group missions and achievements by team? Where in this ecosystem is the space for the entrepreneur?

... When soldiers help an entrepreneurial spirit take root in hostile environments, they are using one of America's core strengths to help build stable, self-sustaining societies that can contribute to a more prosperous and safer world. 

That is COL Jeff Peterson's essay, published today at It's probably no surprise that I endorse Peterson's viewpoint 100 percent. I wish we had an Army full of Jeff Petersons. That said, I am bit puzzled by the capacity of the military to promote entrepreneurship externally when it often does such a good job of squelching entrepreneurship internally.

Take one example: personnel evaluations. Keep in mind that each service branch is free to set its own personnel rules. My experience in the Air Force appears typical, and is captured well by this essay from Brad Wayland in the Air & Space Power Journal about OPRs (officer performance reports) few years ago:

Today, virtually every officer ‘walks on water,’ making it almost impossible to detect differences between the real person, their actual duty performance, their true leadership abilities, and what their records indicate about these traits. Thus, in order to find variances in the potential of all these officers who "meet or exceed standards," OPR comments have become critical. Unfortunately, no formal training program exists for supervisors on the intricacies of these comments and instead, they must be learned through experience. As such, the importance of these comments—without formal training—creates a situation where an officer’s advancement is not only dependent upon their own abilities; but also upon their supervisor’s writing skills and knowledge of the intricacies within the OPR system.

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