Frogmen were the predecessors to the prestigious special-forces unit, the U.S. Navy SEALs. The military called them UDTs or Underwater Demolition Teams. They were in existence from 1943 until 1983 when the SEAL Team replaced them. UDTs were responsible for providing reconnaissance and destroying enemy defensive obstacles on beaches prior to beach landings in combat situations. Due to their amphibious duties, they were given the nickname, Frogmen. These were some of the bravest and highly skilled special-forces in the world.
Due to the demands of the job, the Frogman selection process was particularly demanding. Candidates were required to pass an intense 16-week UDT training course, which concluded with Hell Week—six days of unthinkable challenges administered with little more than two hours of sleep per night. In his book, The Rogue Warrior, Richard Marcinko wrote of his grueling experiences in training to become a Frogman. The regimen included running on beaches while carrying large logs over one’s heads; carrying inflatable boats to waterways, paddling across, then carrying them to another waterway to paddle again and repeating the process for eight or ten miles; traversing obstacle courses; and, of course, swimming in every conceivable situation (night, day, warm weather, cold weather, etc.). According to Marcinko, by the end of the 16 weeks, seven out of ten candidates had quit. Those who became Frogmen were among the toughest guys in the United States Navy.
Marcinko came away from this agonizing training with more than his prestigious new designation as Frogman, he learned a valuable life lesson as well. He wrote, “As I looked around at those of us who’d survived, I realized something I’d carry with me for life. It was a simple truth, but a good one: never stereotype anyone. Never assume just by looking that someone is suited for anything. For example, there is no physical prototype for a Frogman—or for a SEAL for that matter—although the stereotype is probably a big, heavily muscled guy in the Arnold Schwarzenegger mold.
“I was built like a football player. But my swimming buddy, Ken MacDonald, looked like a toothpick.” He continued, “But overall, non-Six SEALS come in all configurations. Under combat conditions, however, they are all equally deadly.”
We all make these superficial snap judgments about others. Assumptions are made using just a few facts, often based on appearance. Malcolm Gladwell calls this Thin-slicing, which is when our unconscious mind finds patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. Unfortunately, thin-slicing is particularly vulnerable to the mental shortcut known as the representative heuristic. This is when we estimate the likelihood of an event or behavior based on how closely a person or object represents a prototype in our mind.
When his special-forces training began, Marcinko assumed the big athletic guys in the group were better suited to survive the intense mental and physical demands required of Frogmen. That particular physical image represented his prototype of an elite special-forces soldier. He eventually learned that his stereotype led to false assumptions about the worthiness of his fellow candidates.
So, who makes a better Navy SEAL: a toothpick or a football player? Answer: It’s not the guy who looks the part; it’s the guy with the greater will, determination and ultimately character.
The same could be said of the business world, but it’s difficult to see those traits hidden under an interview suit.
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