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Episode 8

Episode 8: Fieldcraft: Unconventional Strategies for Thriving in a Competitive Landscape


Just as fieldcraft enables soldiers to overcome challenges, civilians too must embrace their creativity to thrive in a competitive world. In this episode of Veteran Led, John Berry walks listeners through the importance of flexibility when faced with limited resources. John will explain how to think outside the box and use unconventional tactics to stand out in crowded markets. By adopting a fieldcraft mindset, individuals and businesses can navigate hard times, overcome obstacles, and achieve success in personal and professional endeavors.


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 back veterans. In this episode, we’re discussing fieldcraft: the art of doing more with less.

No matter how much gear the military issues at CIF, the Central Issue Facility, inevitably we need something that we don’t have in order to get the job done when we go to the field. And so, we have to use the equipment we have in unintended ways to fill that need.

Now, my platoon sergeant taught us how to improvise and use fieldcraft to make just about anything. We would take our ponchos and parachute cord and make lean-tos to keep us dry at night. We could make flotation devices out of our trousers. We could make just about anything with a hundred mile an hour tape and 550 cord. For those of you that don’t know, a hundred mile an hour tape is that green duct tape and 550 cord is parachute cord. We could fix our equipment with the tape and the cord, and we could create things.

The key to fieldcraft is understanding that necessity is the mother of ingenuity, and this is proven in the important breakthroughs that came through during necessity, during combat. Advances in anesthesia, sanitation, prosthetics, and plastic surgery have all come from combat innovation. And as soldiers in the field, we were taught how to use our gear to take care of our brothers and sisters when they were wounded. For example, we learned how to make a field-expedient splint where we could take our field dressing and a stick and create a splint for our buddy to make sure that our buddy could continue movement with us. Or we could take our poncho and branches on the ground to create a field-expedient litter to evacuate a soldier on the battlefield to safety.

Fieldcraft is all about resourcefulness. Those of us that have been in the military long enough know that budgets swing back and forth with public sentiment. When I initially joined the military, we were in the post-Desert Storm drawdown. And during that time, we had a smaller military and a smaller budget to arm our soldiers. So, for my first deployment to Bosnia, we didn’t get a lot of the equipment that we requested.

However, when I went to Iraq in 2005, Post-9/11, it was a completely different game. The pendulum had swung back the other way and there was plenty of money for everything that we needed to accomplish our mission. The point is that as a leader, you will see those pendulums. There’ll be times when there’s a recession and there’s not a lot of money out there. Then there’ll be booms where you are flush with cash. But the key is as a leader, you need to be prepared for both. And today we’re talking about what happens when scarcity hits.

And I know there’s mindset coaches out there that will tell you, “Well, you need to have an abundance mindset.” And that’s probably true, but you need to deal with scarcity. Leaders deal with scarcity, and they don’t let scarcity stop them from completing the mission. The key is to take the action to solve the problem because the reality is there are plenty of businesses out there that started off with all the capital that they needed, and they still failed. They couldn’t make it work even when they had all the resources that they projected that they needed when they started.

Well, why did that happen? It happened because they never learned how to run lean. They never learned how to “adapt, improvise and overcome,” as Clint Eastwood said in “Heartbreak Ridge.” They didn’t know how to be scrappy or how to succeed with limited resources.

When we started seeing big success, I was approached by private equity companies who were promising an even bigger opportunity in the future. They were promising all the cash I needed to grow the organization. And so, I started doing some research and I found that there are a lot of companies who took that money, who didn’t get to where they thought they were going to go. A 2023 article in The Atlantic Magazine states that companies bought by private equity firms are 10 times more likely to go bankrupt. That same article cites a 2015 Harvard study that revealed more than 50 companies had been forced into bankruptcy by private equity firms. There’s also a 2019 Polytechnical State University study that shows 20 percent of private equity takeovers resulted in bankruptcy; 10 times the rate for non-private equity firms.

I’m not citing these articles to say that private equity is bad. I have no experience whatsoever in private equity. What I’m saying is that an infusion of cash only temporarily solves a problem. In the short term, if you have a problem, and you have enough cash, you don’t have a problem. But if your company lacks the innovation and discipline to stay within a budget, when the next recession hits, you’re toast. Leaders can’t be wasteful.

Perhaps you’ve been in a convoy where the vehicles are running low on fuel. Or worse, your aircraft or tank didn’t have the fuel to complete the mission. How did you, as a leader, handle it? It’s no different for food, ammunition, or water. As a leader, you must prepare for contingencies to complete your mission, regardless of your limited resources. As you grow your business, you will always be faced with limited resources.

When I took over the family business, we were in a 3,800 square foot bank building. As we grew, I needed more space for lawyers. I put a lawyer in the back vault. I put a lawyer in a broom closet. I had two people sitting at the front desk in the reception area, and I filled it as much as I could until we were bursting at the seams.

Finally, we had the revenue to purchase the building next door, an additional 4,000 square feet. At the time, I only needed 2,000 square feet, so I kept the tenants. I occupied 2,000 square feet, and I was getting the additional 2,000 square feet paid for by a karate studio, which helped pay the mortgage. Now, within 18 months, we had grown to the point where I had 12 additional employees, and so I moved the tenant out of the karate studio and made a cubicle farm out of the big open area so that we could house our new team members.

Now, as you can imagine, when you’re spending more money for space, you’re going to need more money for furniture. I went to furniture auctions to get that furniture. There are a lot of businesses that go bankrupt, and they auction off the furniture. So, I got cheap furniture. When we moved to our new lease space, it was all furnished. And so, I talked to the owners, and they didn’t want to have to pay to transport and remove the furniture, so I offered to buy it for pennies on the dollar. I ended up saving over $100,000 on that furniture so it also made the offices turnkey.

This was all fieldcraft. This was about being able to have a great new home for my team. My proposal to buy the furniture from the departing company is nothing new in small business. In fact, collaborations with other companies are very common. Sometimes small businesses will pool resources or share marketing fees. Sometimes they’ll even share team members. Well, as a leader, you have to use fieldcraft. You have to figure out how to make the resources you have suitable for the thing that you want.

Unfortunately, the resources we need are sometimes the things that we discard. Think about your MREs, the Meals Ready-to-Eat. Remember those meals you ate in the field? You’d open that pouch up and there’d be all sorts of things that you’d never use. You could make Ranger pudding. Take the coffee grounds, take the cocoa powder, stir it together, mash your cracker in there, and eat it, right? That was stuff that we would normally throw away, but we learned not to waste stuff. And some of the greatest inventions have come from people understanding that the things that have been thrown away have great value.

Most of us know about whey protein. If you’re into nutrition, you know that whey protein is a byproduct of cheese production. In the past, that was just scraped up and thrown out. Now there’s an entire industry that takes that waste product and sells it for a ton of money.

One area in business where fieldcraft is most prevalent is in marketing. You’ve probably heard of guerrilla marketing, and that term comes from the concept of guerrilla war. Large armies, relatively equal in size, fight conventional, linear wars. Outnumbered, outgunned, inferior forces resort to guerrilla warfare, an asymmetric fighting strategy to minimize the opponent’s tactical advantage and level the playing field.

And so, when you can’t fight head-to-head, fight against what we call the 800-pound gorilla, the big player in the market, we have to find ways to compete understanding that we can never go head-to-head. So, we have to maximize the resources and the opportunities with unconventional tactics. Some of today’s biggest brands used guerilla marketing to make giant leaps when they lack the resources to go head-to-head with more powerful competitors in their markets.

For example, at the 2010 PayPal developers conference, their competitor, WePay, placed a large block of ice with hundreds of $100 bills frozen in the ice and a note that says, ‘PayPal freezes your accounts.’ The growth of Salesforce is attributed to many guerrilla marketing tactics pulled off by their CEO. He hired fake protesters to disrupt a leading competitor’s conference. And in one instance, rented out all of the taxis at a rival’s French event so that he could give attendees a 45-minute sales pitch while driving them to their next event. And don’t forget the Fiji water girl who photobombed celebrities at the 2019 Golden Globes, earning the equivalent of $12 million in ad impressions.

Your competitors may have billboards, TV commercials, or radio ads. How do you compete? How do you get noticed? Well, just like guerrilla warfare, you only fight the battles that you could win. And that is where you invest your limited resources. Like some of the examples we just talked about.

In marketing, we can also repurpose our trash. Our cringeworthy social media posts that we wanted to delete often get 10 times the views as our intentional stuff. I had a friend that was posting several videos a week about personal injury. And these were high-quality educational videos, but the public wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until he went on this weight loss journey and started documenting, that he started getting a lot of followers. And then, fortuitously, one day while he was eating lunch, his assistant asked him, “Hey, didn’t you say you’re not eating bread?” He looked back and said, “Well, yeah, I’m not eating bread.” And the assistant said, “Well, aren’t you eating croutons? Croutons are bread.” And the lawyer looked back and said, “No, croutons aren’t bread.” That video got hundreds of thousands of views and got that attorney an offer from a crouton company.

Social media marketing, like all marketing, is giving the people what they want. They care about their own problems. Your job as a leader is to fieldcraft your solution to fix their problems. You have to have a message that they want to hear. But when you can fieldcraft your assets, your content, and your effort into something that can help the consumer, something that consumer is looking for, that is where you win.

In conclusion, fieldcraft is all about being creative and solution oriented.

After Action Review for Fieldcraft, the art of doing more with less: number one, scarcity is real. Deal with it. Number two, while there is no shortage of success in the world that you and your team can achieve, everything else costs money. Number three, fieldcraft is about survival. If you can’t afford the solution, you have to find a way. And if you don’t, your team will fail.

Three down, the improves: number one, if you’re not the 800-pound gorilla in charge of the market, the big player in the market, then use guerilla tactics to get there. Number two, as a leader your purpose is to innovate. Stop whining about not having the resources. And number three, not all of your efforts can be funded at the same time. Prioritize. Use your funds for your main effort and use fieldcraft for the rest.

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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