When I enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 2004, I did so as an assaultman. This is an infantry role with a specialization in small-scale demolitions and rocket launchers. To an 18-year-old, this sounded pretty cool. One thing I totally underestimated about the military was their focus on "brilliance in the basics" in everything they do.

While assigned to the east coast Infantry Training Battalion, we spend endless hours disassembling our shoulder-mounted assault weapons, computing how much C4 or TNT would be needed to blast through different materials, and other relatively boring tasks. I watched our machine gun section practicing "gun drills", which consisted of sprinting, throwing yourself on the ground, and rapidly deploying the crew-served weapon. Most of us, myself included, wanted to start kicking in doors and shooting at abandoned tanks. Our instructors wisely counseled us that these skills would come later, and easily, once we mastered the fundamentals of our craft.

I hadn't really thought about those military days until recently when I picked up the 2018 book "The Dichotomy of Leadership" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. At one point during their pre-deployment workup, Babin mentions his SEALs wanted to focus on "advanced tactics" rather than fundamentals. One of my favorite tenets from Willink and Babin is "simple, not easy". Shooting, moving, and communicating are core skills for any combatant.

The logic extends far past combat. In software development, I consider "unit testing" to be a basic skill that is sorely lacking today, especially in Government-owned software. I know several eager engineers wanting to add multi-threading, fancy web front-ends, and third-party integrations before designing a component-level test process. I learned this lesson the hard way in 2006 when I wrote a C# program to manage music on my MP3 player. I once made a minor change to one of my core libraries. Lacking regression tests, running the program deleted all my music from the device. I was able to restore the files from an offline backup, but it made me think about what "could" have happened.

It applies in manufacturing as well with basic Lean tenets like "quality at the source". These concepts are simple, but not always easy. It takes time, know-how, patience, and commitment, especially as your workload increases. Identify the foundational tasks in your own life and focus there, even when it isn't fun.

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