Orientation

Greetings Everyday Spy,

One of the most useful – yet underutilized – skills in the everyday world is ‘orientation.’

Orientation is simply the skill of knowing where you are. But it gets overlooked and ignored because so many people are focused on where they are going or where they are coming from.

In the field, no information is more important than a covert operative’s current orientation.

You must always be aware of your current location so you can communicate it back to your team, your command center, and possibly even Headquarters in Langley. If you lose your orientation, it is the first sign that you have lost control of the mission.

And that is not acceptable.

But knowing your orientation is much more than simply understanding your current geo coordinates.

It’s not a matter of North, South, East or West alone. Orientation must also account for movement away from a starting place and toward an end goal. And that end goal is most often your ‘Operational Act.’

Consider a college athlete in the middle of track-and-field foot race – what is their orientation?

Assuming they are racing on a track, their physical geo coordinates will repeat over and over again as they run in circles. Tracking their coordinates does not tell you anything useful except for their physical location at a moment in time.

If you want to know what lap they are on, where they are currently placed, or how likely they are to to speed up or slow down, you have to orient them off of other reference points besides their physical location.

Field operators orient themselves according to 4 ‘dimensions’: Time (from mission kick off), Distance (to ‘operational act’), Resources (energy, money, human), and Wellness (mental, emotional, physical).

When you track and communicate your orientation using these 4 dimensions, you create a complete 4D model of yourself, your mission, and the probability of a successful outcome. When every operational act must be completed correctly and without detection, this level of orientation is critical to keeping you in total control of your environment.

Let’s break down each dimension in detail…

1. Time

Everything you will ever encounter in this world is time constrained. It is the ultimate resource limitation, and for that reason is the most important dimension you must track to understand your orientation.

Time must be referenced according to time elapsed (aka: time passed) and estimated time to completion (aka: time ahead). Orienting yourself according to time is the only way to assess whether there is enough time ahead to complete the mission.

Consider our example of the college athlete running a foot race. If they are running a 1 mile race (4 laps around a standard track), with the goal of running that race in 5 minutes or less, then they must finish each lap in approximately 75 seconds. Orienting with time allows the racer (and the coach) to assess their chances of success throughout the race. If the racer finishes the first lap in 69 seconds, success is likely. If the racer finishes the first lap in 90 seconds, success is much less likely.

But in both instances, the orientation is clearly understood and the runner is in control of their race.  

2. Distance

Distance is not a reference to physical distance, but instead an anchor to any measurable unit you can use to gauge success. For example, ‘money earned,’ ‘people hired,’ and ‘deals closed’ are all examples of how you can orient yourself according to distance.

Orienting according to distance is all about determining your location on a spectrum from start to finish. The closer you are to the start, the less you have accomplished toward your mission objective. The closer you are to finish, the more you have accomplished. The way you orient where you are between start and finish is by measuring (quantitatively) according to a fixed objective.

Consider a salesperson trying to close $200,000 in sales by the end of the calendar year. Using Time (first dimension), they are able to check their calendar and see the first 3 months have finished and there are only 9 months left in the year. Using Distance (second dimension), that salesperson can look-up current sales and see they have closed $25,000 in business. Unlike the college runner example we used earlier, there is no ‘fixed pace’ in sales like there is when a runner races around a track. The salesman can always catch up on sales, as long as they are able to orient themselves early and plan.

To non-sales people, $175,000 may seem like an unrealistic goal to complete in 9 months. But a trained sales person recognizes that sales are cyclical, the summer and holiday buying seasons are still ahead, and that most professionals won’t get their annual bonuses until April anyway. Orienting to distance – a measurable goal between start and finish – is critical to understanding your current location as it pertains to time elapsed (first dimension).

3. Resources

Every mission is game in balancing depleting resources. The same is true in your everyday life. Whether your operational act is defusing a bomb or dropping kids off at summer camp, you know the stress and pressure when you don’t have the resources you need at the moment that you need them.

Orienting according to resources means assessing the resources you can immediately access against the resources you may still need to reach your objective (aka: operational act). More specifically, the resources you need to be aware of are your energy, money, and other human beings helping you. As you deplete your energy, you risk not being able to physically finish your objective. As you deplete your money, you risk losing access to additional resources money can purchase. And as you deplete human resources that can help you, you risk losing important skills, wisdom, and encouragement needed to complete your operational act.

Our college track star may not have much need for money mid-race, but they must closely orient themselves according to their remaining energy. If they burn energy too quickly, they will slow down and blow long past their 5 minute finish. Our salesman may not track his energy closely, but he is very sensitive to money and human resources. Once he runs out of advertising dollars, he loses his ability to reach prospective buyers in mass. As for human resources, he cannot task his call team or customer service team to work past their contracted work hours.

Understand and assess your resources anytime you orient yourself. Your operational success requires that you recognize how the time to completion (first dimension) and current measurable progress (second dimension) will be impacted by the resources you currently possess (third dimension). If your resources will not hold out until your planned operational act, you must find a way to access new resources. The only unacceptable outcome is failing your mission because you did not realize you would run out of resources. 

4. Wellness

Mental, emotional, and physical wellness is an important and all-too-often unknown dimension that elite operators use to orient themselves. Human beings are not machines. And contrary to popular culture, the higher your level of training, the more you are trained to understand your emotions, mental health, and physical needs. The mindless super-soldier you see on TV is a creation of fiction – not a real-world asset being used for National Security.

Orienting according to wellness is an exercise in knowing your own personal needs and determining whether the balance of time (first dimension), progress (second dimension), and resources (third dimension) is within allowable limits of your current and projected wellness state. For example, an operator who is physically impacted by a digestive issue or severe food allergy must maintain a different balance of the other 3 dimensions to accomplish the same operational act as an operator who has no physical limitations but recently suffered a significant family loss (emotionally wellness).

Mental and emotional health are science-based performance indicators tracked in elite athletes, soldiers, businessmen, and spies. And to know your orientation so that you can achieve incredible success, you must also recognize, respect, and remain aware of your own wellness.

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Let’s orient our college athlete rounding the 3rd lap in a 4 lap race. 

They have outperformed their target time over and again, entering the final lap 81 seconds before 5 minutes. Distance is measured in laps for them, and everyone on the team is fully aware of the racer’s progress. The runner has managed their energy well, and the cheers rising up from teammates on the sideline boosts the runners energy to a new high. Do you have a prediction for whether this operation will be successful or not?

Now let’s orient our salesman. 

9 months have passed in the calendar year and he feels confident he will hit his $200,000 EOY sales goal. New technologies have disrupted the market for his product, and summer sales were lower than ever before. His advertising budget is running low, and his supervisor has cut the call service team in half as a way to reduce business operating expenses. Our salesman has committed himself to doubling the amount of cold-calls he makes to new prospects for the rest of the year – even if it means skipping the holidays with his wife and kids. Do you have a prediction for whether this operation will be successful or not?

For every 10 people who consider our salesman, 5 will predict his success and 5 will predict his failure. 

And in neither answer is it because of the salesman – it is because you are making a determination based on your own fourth dimension (wellness). That one dimension by itself can shape the entire outcome of an operation. 

But remember, there are still three others! And you have the ability to orient yourself today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of your life according to this elite model. The more often you orient yourself, the faster you will become. And when you partner with others who orient themselves according to the same 4 dimension, you unlock potential 99% of the world will never be able to access.

Godspeed, #EverydaySpy

Skills Exercise:

Set a goal right now to accomplish one objective tomorrow (aka: one operational act). It could be working out, buying a new pair of shoes for your oldest child, picking a nice bottle of wine for your partner, or anything else you can imagine!

Using the 4 dimensions you just learned, orient yourself against how likely you are to succeed in the mission you set for tomorrow. Answer these questions and put the answers into your wallet/phone/purse:

  • What time constraints are affecting you now or will affect you later?
  • How will you measure your progress along the way to ensure your success?
  • What resources will you need, do you have them now, or how will you get them later?
  • What physical, emotional, or mental boundaries might emerge to keep you from success?

Review these questions tomorrow morning and make any updates to your orientation that are relevant. Did you lose time because something ‘came up?’ Have you been able to find a way to measure your progress or not? Have resources changed? How has your emotional or mental state changed since you first answered these four questions.

Have you possibly totally forgotten about this skills exercise?

When you complete your operational act, do a final review against the four questions to orient yourself again. Reflect on how much or how little your orientation changed over the last 24 hours or less. Welcome to elite field operations!


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