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Episode 14

Episode 14: Hip Pocket Training: Fostering a Culture of Continuous Learning


Time is a finite resource, but we do have the power to choose how we use it. In this episode of Veteran Led, John Berry will explain the military concept of “hip pocket training” where individuals utilize any available resources and opportunities for learning and skill development. John will apply this concept to the workplace setting and share how encouraging employees to make the most of their downtime can help them unlock their full potential and achieve personal and professional growth.  


Welcome fellow veterans. From the tip of the spear to in the rear with the gear, I went from active-duty Infantry to reserve-component logistician. I’m your host, CEO, entrepreneur, trial lawyer, and Lieutenant Colonel Retired, John Berry. The military lessons that I learned helped me grow an eight-figure business that has maintained consistent annual double-digit growth, landing on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America every year for the past seven years, and has allowed me to continue to serve America’s heroes.

Welcome to Chapter 14: Hip-Pocket Training: Where the Training Never Ends and the Progress Never Stops.

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.” -Sun Tzu

This is hip-pocket training. We probably all experienced one of my early memories as a lieutenant; had just completed the Land Nav Course, laying around, eating an MRE, getting ready to change my socks, I’m bare feet, looking for the foot powder, rummaging through my rucksack, and all of a sudden I hear, “On your feet!” And there it was, the E6 superstar, the staff sergeant, who wanted for us to conduct hip-pocket training while in the field. At this point, about half the soldiers had completed the Land Nav Course and this high-speed noncommissioned officer decided that he wanted to teach us about how to call in medevac to an 8-digit grid coordinate.

And so, he pulled out his map and showed us where would be good locations for landing zones, LZs, and then he had us pick them out. And he went through the exercise. How does he even do the 9-Line Medevac all while waiting for others to finish? Now, for some of us it seemed like torture. We’ve been out doing the Land Nav Course, we just wanted to chill out for a while before everybody finished, but this noncommissioned officer saw this as an opportunity for hip-pocket training. And if you served in the military, you’ve been through hip-pocket training. And sometimes it’s, the training fell apart and we’ve got to do something. Other times it’s hurry up and wait, and we’re standing around waiting for something to do and a high-speed NCO comes in and says, “Look, we’re not going to waste this time. We’re going to train.” And look, in life, there’s no such thing as spare time. The time you have is the time you have, and if there’s an opportunity to train, then you train.

I can think back to our first sergeant who said, “Look, if you have downtime, it’s not downtime. It’s training time. And if you’re not training, you’re going to be cleaning.” Our first sergeant always wanted to make sure that we were training. He said, “Look, there is no way that we will ever have enough time to train you to proficiency on every single skill.” The term hip-pocket training means using anything in your immediate vicinity available as a training aid to help train, and that could be in your hip-pocket.

Now, when you have downtime, it’s not really downtime. It is training time. Our first sergeant always prioritized training over eating or sleeping. One of the reasons why, he explained to us is, he said, “Look at the training schedule here. You know, we’re trying to fit 10 pounds of stuff into a five-pound bag, and we’re never going to get all this training done, so we have to look for opportunities. And training is kind of like that packing list you have, you think about the pre-deployment packing list, you got to figure out how you’re going to get all this gear into a rucksack and a duffel bag, and it’s not going to happen.

It’s the same situation when you want to be proficient at every single military task; there’s just no way you can do it all, even everything on the training schedule. And so, while the training schedule was a well-intended plan, we trained to standard not to time, and the reality is the training schedule is time-based, and if we’re going to train to standard, there is training that we’re going to need to do over and over again. We know that some skills are perishable and require constant training.

If you’ve been in the military for more than a few days, you know that some training gets pencil whipped, right? What we mean by pencil whipped is the training gets done, but it doesn’t really get done to standard. So how do we make sure that the training gets done? Well, I can think of being at the firing range as a great example where, as we’re getting ready, we’re assembling and disassembling machine guns, we’re doing washer and dime drills. And remember the washer dime drill; you take a dime or a washer, put it on the end of the rifle, and then you’d squeeze the trigger, and you want to see how many times in a row you could squeeze the trigger and the dime not fall off. And so, it became a competition. Who could get 10 in a row? And I found that with training, the more you can make it about competition, the more fun it is.

But the point was, we didn’t just sit around at the range. There was plenty of training to do, plenty of things to know, and plenty of things to learn. And in the military, training isn’t something that we did, it was what we did. We were always training, always improving. Just like Olympic athletes, understanding that we would spend a lifetime training for what might be a small opportunity to use that training.

Now, as civilians, we tend to squander our time. We flip through our smartphones, we’re scrolling social media, we’re shopping online, we’re surfing the internet, playing video games. And during all that downtime, and we all need downtime, but that could be used to train. Because we do all have the same 24 hours a day. It’s how we choose. to use them.

Think about the military. How do we choose to use them? We got up at 0500. We packed as much into our days as we possibly could. But then civilians, we start to lose discipline and focus, and our lack of desire just starts to kill our goals. And it is that lack of desire that kills our goals, not our lack of time. Deep down, we all know our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes what we need to do requires no more effort than just picking up a book and holding it up to our face and reading it. And if we don’t have time to do that, great, get audio books in your car or listen to podcasts. It’s so easy to learn and yet we seldom do it.

There will never be enough time to train through proficiency on everything. We have to look for those moments. And it’s amazing to me that the time that we find that we’re just killing time, right? Just standing around, sitting around. The time is there. The question is whether you will develop the habits that provide you the opportunities to get better at the things you want to get better at.

If you’re the leader of an organization, bring the idea of hip-pocket training into your company. I carry a list of the things that I want to improve on as a team. And sometimes those things only take five minutes. I was talking to a sales director, I said, “How do you train your sales team?” And she said, “Look, every day for 10 minutes, we go over a scenario.” And it’s just like hip-pocket training. They don’t have any training aids; they’re just talking through a scenario as a group. Sometimes that is the effective hip-pocket training that can change an organization because while 10 minutes a day may not seem like anything, it compounds over time and after we get through a week, if we have a five day week, that’s almost an hour of training a week. 52 days out of the year, well, let’s just say 50, but that’s 50 hours of training a week that we wouldn’t have otherwise got in just 10 minute increments.

So how do we make training a habit? Well, we first have to identify where we want to go. What’s the objective? What is the goal? And then once we find the goal, we can break it down into what are the skills that we need to accomplish at a world class level to achieve that? And then we just keep working on the skills. Have you ever seen the soccer player who’s just practicing dribbling, shooting, just out in the field by himself? This happens all the time. We know what individual skills we need to be really good at what we need to master, and the thing about hip-pocket training is, any place, right? If you’ve got a soccer ball, you can practice those drills. Similarly, if you’ve got an iPhone, you can read just about anything or listen to just about any audio book.

I met a young man who recently left the military and wanted to get into the IT field but had no experience. And he just started taking online courses in his spare time, getting certifications in online courses. And eventually that led to a career in the IT field. And it was hip-pocket training. He had a full time job. He had other things going on. He didn’t have time to take classes. He had a family, but he said, “Look, I’ve got my laptop, and in my spare time, I’m going to take these classes.” And it might’ve been 20 minutes here, a couple hours there, sometimes he had big chunks of time, sometimes he had small chunks, but the habit he developed. He said, “Look, if I have spare time, I would actually kind of get anxiety about why am I not working on my course?” And sure enough, he got through that. And now he’s got a great career because he understood that he had to develop the skills and he was willing to take every single little chunk of time and invest it in his education, in his hip-pocket training to get to the next level.

And I think that there’s a lesson in that for all of us. We say we don’t have time. We do have time. There’s five minutes here, 10 minutes there. You can find it. You can do a time study on yourself if you want, or if you’re a lawyer and you’re used to billable time, you’re used to tracking every 10th of an hour, it’s pretty easy to figure out where you’re spending your time. But the point is this, if you want a skill, there is time to develop that skill. You have to commit to it. And it’s not easy.

It’s real simple when you want to watch TV, shop online, browse the internet, play around on social media. It’s so easy to lose track of time. And that’s the problem, right? It sucks away our motivation, our goal, our discipline. 30 minutes later, you’re still scrolling online. Did you move any closer to your goal? No. What did you really get? Maybe a few dopamine hits because somebody liked your post? Look, that’s never going to get you where you want in life. That is playing the short game. The long game is to make training a habit. Make it like that IT professional who said, “If I wasn’t training, I actually would get a little bit of anxiety because I knew I wasn’t reaching my goal. And when I had that free time, the thing that clicked in my mind was, train.”

It’s just like the young kids that will do pushups and sit-ups during TV commercials because they realize they’ve got a moment here to do something, to train. And if you can develop that habit, you will train the rest of your life. Because here’s the thing, you only get one shot to be the person that you want to be. You have one life. And in that life, you can be whoever you want to be, but you’ve got to put in the time, you’ve got to put in the training, and we all have busy lives, but you’ve got to commit to training on the things that you need to train on to get there.

Now, when training becomes a lifestyle, it goes well beyond hip-pocket training, it becomes very intentional. I met another veteran who wanted to become a paid public speaker. And I asked him, “Well, how are you doing this?” He said, “Well, you know, I took some classes. I learned some things.” I said, “Well, what did you learn?” He said, “What I really learned is there’s a list of about 10 skills that I need to develop in order to become a great public speaker. And so, I actually have a list and I’m working on all those skills, and I’ve actually put them on my calendar so that every day I work on a different skill.” And look, if you’re going to train, you should plan to train. Take a look at your calendar and add the training. Show me a person without a calendar, and I will show you a person without a future. If it matters, put it on the calendar, make it happen. And for those blank spots, you’ve got time for hip-pocket training.

My recollection of the history lesson behind the calendar was that the ancient Egyptians actually started the calendar process and used calendars to figure out when to plant and when to harvest their crops. That being said, your calendar is your life when it comes to training. And the important thing is that you put the most important things in there first. So, whether it’s a spouse’s birthday, an anniversary, time you want to spend with your kids, you put all that in your calendar. You put your workouts on your calendar. You put your projects on the calendar. Make sure your training is on your calendar. But when you have all that written down and you understand what is going to get done when, you’re more likely to stick to it. You’re more likely to get it done. And when you lead others, and you have an event, it had better be on a calendar.

I talk to teams all the time that want to tell me about how great they’re doing with great training programs. And I’ll say, “Great. Do you guys have a training calendar?” “Well, no.” “Well, why not?” Right? In the military, we had a training calendar. Calendars are what keep you on track. And once again, for the white spaces in the calendar, there’s plenty of opportunities for hip-pocket training, but we need to be deliberate about our training.

The best organizations never stop training. They know that every day you’re either getting better or you are getting worse. As a leader, by training your team for the future, you’re showing the team that you are committed to the vision and committed to making them a part of it by training with them to get them the skills to get there.

As the leader, we’re all strapped for time. And we look at our organization, and we say, “Well, we’re running a business here. How do we continue to find time to train?” And that is the challenge of the leader. There are small but meaningful ways to incorporate training into your daily routine and it’s the necessary course correction you need as a team that’s going to help you outpace your competitors. It is that hip-pocket training done right. But it’s also the 20-mile march where you’re doing 20 miles a day. You’re doing training every single day.

The best organizations never stop training. They know that their team is either getting better or is getting worse, and they know that the same is true for their competitors. By training the team for the future, you as a leader, are committing to your team and committing to the vision. You’re showing your team members, we’re going to get there because we’re going to be trained to be there, and I am committed to make sure that you have the training you need to get there personally.

Finally, there are small but meaningful ways to incorporate training into your daily routine. And you’re going to have to make course corrections from time to time. Yes, training does not always happen. We learned that in the military, training events get moved and you’re going to have to make those course corrections. But if you do that and you stick to the training and you make sure the training happens and it’s done to standard, you will outpace your competitors.

After Action Review: Number 1. Training must be part of your culture. And hip-pocket training is a cultural norm that you will have to develop within your organization. Number 2. Training must be calendared. If you calendar it, it’s more likely that it’s going to happen. Number 3. Training must be realistic, but more importantly, it must happen, and happen regularly.

Three Down: Training is expensive. Even when it’s hip-pocket training in spare time, there’s no spare time. You are using team member time to train. Understand the value of that time and how that value can compound in the future as you continue to train your team. Number 2. If you’re only training for the skills that you need right now, you’re wrong. You need to start training for the skills that you will need in the future. Number 3. People don’t want to train. Training does not come naturally. We have a lot of distractions in life. Training is something that you have to commit to.

Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earned. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @veteranled on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments. We want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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