Trouble Choosing? Use This Hack From The Special Forces



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Use CARVER to choose amongst competing alternatives We live in a world that doesn’t lack opportunity. For those of us that want to do something different and fail to make steady progress, it’s usually not because we don’t know what to do, its that we don’t choose among the many things we could do.

We might be interested in many different topics, or capable of doing many different types of work or capable of building many different skills.

Welcome to multi-potentialism.

The key skill in a world full of opportunity is choosing.

I sucked at choosing for a long time, and have slowly gotten better. I developed my framework for investing in myself to determine what lies within my circle of competence, and what is my highest point of leverage.

All of those concepts are key, but what about choosing among projects, career tracks or business ventures? About 15 years ago, I learned this trick from US Special Forces to rapidly prioritize and choose targets.

Its called the CARVER Matrix.

The CARVER Matrix I first read about CARVER in "Unleash The Warrior Within" 15 years ago.

As the story goes, during the Vietnam War, Special Forces needed a quick framework to assess, rank and choose targets either for offense (what to attack) or defense (what to protect).

They came up with CARVER, a qualitative and quantitative ranking system based on 6 factors:

  1. Criticality

  2. Accessibility

  3. Recoverability

  4. Vulnerability

  5. Effect

  6. Recognizability

Quick Hack: For most of our purposes, we can take an 80/20 approach and simply rank options by Criticality and Effect on the goal, but it helps to understand all the factors at play.

First, You Need an Objective The prerequisite to CARVER (or any other system) is that you need to have an overarching objective. For the military it was to win the war. For us, it might not be that simple. Sometimes we don’t really know what we want or what will make us happy.

Invest in the work up front to get this as right as you can.

My current objective is to build an “All Weather Life”. This means I have income streams and protections where I can weather any condition the world throws at me.

Ok, on to the CARVER system . . .

Criticality: How critical is this to your mission/goal?

Will this move the needle?

Will this break a bottleneck?

This can help you better understand sequencing in a large project

Accessibility: For the military, accessibility was literally, “can we get at this thing to destroy it?”

For us it’s more:

Is this doable, given enough time and focus?

How easy is it to get to the right help, right pieces, right assets, right resources to accomplish?

Recoverability: For the military, recoverability is “how well can the enemy recover if we destroy this target?”

For us:

How hard is it to recover or change course if you make a mistake?

Is this path consequential (it better be) and irreversible?

What is my path to reversing this decision if it goes wrong?

Vulnerability: For the military, vulnerability is simply how vulnerable the enemy is to an attack at a specific target.

For us, vulnerability can be a few different things:

How easy is this project to accomplish or defend?

How vulnerable is my competition if I make this move?

How vulnerable am I if I DON’T make this move.

I think about vulnerability a lot from a risk management perspective and assessing if I’m standing still too long.

Effect: For the military, effect is the likely total effect destroying a target will have on the enemy. Physical, psychological, logistical, momentum.

For us it’s all about progress and momentum:

Does this accomplish what it should?

Is this a home run or a single?

Is this a "hell yeah!" or a "meh"?

Is this an order of magnitude change, or only incremental?

What else does this option unlock?

Recognizability: To the military, recognizability literally means can we find this target on the field of battle.

To us, its more about clarity of steps needed:

How clear are you about this option?

Do you feel you have a crystal clear plan?

Or does it feel undefined?

Can you identify the first step?

To use the CARVER Matrix 1. Write CARVER across the top of a page 2. List your options or alternatives down the left hand side 3. Rank each alternative on each element in CARVER 1-5, 5 being the best 4. Total each option on the right hand side 5. Highest score wins

Here's my CARVER matrix from 2018 when I decided to break my career and do something different:

As you can see, back then I amended the matrix to include “return”, and I’ve played with that idea since.

At this juncture I really was considering staying in consulting, or getting a different job. I’m so glad I did this exercise because my life might look way different.

Result - I ended up building an agency first to get out on my own through freelance work, but having a portfolio of web based businesses became my path to freedom and balance. I figured out how to build an agency for only one client, and used the cashflow to finance my web asset business until I no longer needed the client. Now I have multiple income streams and a portfolio of web based businesses, 0 clients and max freedom :)

What’s Happening on the Pod? In this episode, I chat with Ross Dzikovsky. Ross is a native of Kyiv, Ukraine and is the co-founder of Bilberrry, a software development firm with its development team based in the Ukraine. We briefly worked together back in 2013-14, and have kept in touch ever since. I wanted to catch up with Ross to chat about the software development path, how he evaluates talent, the team’s approach to remote work and of course, his perspective on how things are going in Ukraine.

Connect with Ross on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and his website.

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