“You basically want me to explain to you a difficult subject of identifying moats. It reminds me of a story. One man came to Mozart and asked him how to write a symphony. Mozart replied, “You are too young to write a symphony.” The man said, “You were writing symphonies when you were 10 years of age, and I am 21.” Mozart said, “Yes, but I didn’t run around asking people how to do it.” 

– Charlie Munger

One of the primary reasons the Marine Corps has consistently operated at a high level over the past few hundred years has nothing to do with amount of funding, high tech equipment, or troop levels.  In fact, the Marine Corps ranks last in all three metrics when compared to the other armed services.

The key driver of the Marine Corps’ long held tradition of excellence is its culture. The Marine Corps is an example of an organization built on a sturdy foundation comprising of a:

  1. set of guiding principles
  2. clear mission statement

If you ask any Marine, whether they’re 3 days out of boot camp or 3 decades into retirement, they’ll be able to recite the Corps’ key values (honor, courage, commitment) and mission (to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat), and provide examples of how these values have led to success in past battles, and how they stayed focused on their mission on a daily basis.  This might seem elementary and obvious but that’s the point.  Each team member, regardless of experience, can focus on executing the mission while using the principles as a framework with which to guide their decisions.

And yes, most every organization of any size from McDonald’s to the Chicago Bears have mission statements and guiding principles.  But for many organizations, these statements and principles are just words on a website.  The challenging part of building a culture of excellence is bringing those words to life and getting organic buy-in from all team members.  It’s all about the execution and unfortunately there’s no guidebook to follow.

But if successful, a culture of excellence sustained over decades can provide one of the more effective moats (or competitive advantages) that an organization can have.

Thanks so much for your time,

SL