I will always remember the scene in Jaws when our hero Brody comes face-to-face with his formidable rival, a 25-foot, 3-ton, man-eating great white shark. Shocked, he takes several steps back, turns, and says, “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Before coming face-to-face with Whitewater, one common misconception leaders have is to believe they can scale their business by doing more of what they’ve always done. Pivot. Say yes. Save the day. Then, do it all over again. However, growing and scaling are two completely different challenges. Early in a company’s existence, the challenge is to deliver consistent quality in the face of simplicity. However, as the business grows, you find that you now need to provide consistent quality in the face of complexity, and that is a whole new ballgame. While Whitewater won’t physically eat you for a snack between meals, it’s every bit as menacing.

Winning missions

Let’s continue with our nautical theme for a moment to help illustrate my point.

The Navy Seals are an elite force of skilled fighters. They achieve success by adapting, improvising, and overcoming. To do this, they need equipment that is as agile as they are. That’s why boats like the Mk V Special Operations Craft are the perfect fit. They are fast, lightweight, tough as nails, and excel at getting in and out quickly. These boats can carry a Seal Team about 250 miles and can reach speeds of nearly 60 miles an hour!


U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger/Released

Your business structure is probably a lot like the Mk V SOC. You’ve got an elite team of agile, get-stuff-done, operators in your company. You’ve created success by moving quickly, adapting to the situation, improvising, and overcoming whatever it is that comes at you. And wow, is it tough, but it is also SO exciting!

With this set of skills, your internal systems and processes are kept to a minimum. Your overhead is low. Your team is unencumbered and free to move and respond quickly.

This approach works well for a small team. The largest operation unit deployed on a SEAL mission is a platoon of 16. But what happens where your company has 50+ people in it, and every one of them is adapting, improvising, and overcoming in their own ways?

Well, we respond by making our boat a little bigger and trying to get it going a little faster. The problem for the Mk V SOC is that it is already going too fast, and it’s literally breaking the backs of its crew and passengers.

Winning Wars

To scale your business, to create incredible second stage growth, you don’t need a slightly faster, slightly bigger, slightly better Mk V SOC. You need something more like a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier. These boats can carry 6,000 people, anywhere around the world, and launch an aircraft every 20 seconds.

With all this power, these war machines and their crews don’t adapt, improvise, and overcome like the SEALS. Instead, the motto for the USS Nimitz is “Teamwork, a Tradition.”

Sure these formidable machines are slower, more expensive, and require way more systems and processes, but they are the most revered piece of military equipment. Why? Because you can win missions with a special operations team, but you win wars with aircraft carriers.

For you to overcome complexity and truly begin to scale your business, you need to stop trying to make your small boat faster and more agile. You need to start working on a brand new boat that is custom-built for tomorrow’s challenges.