Skip to main content
The Future of Work: What Talent Wants. Learn more in our guide. >
International PEO

How to Foster Innovation Using the Skills of a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant

By July 29, 2021September 2nd, 2022No Comments

Experience is a valuable teacher for any leader. For Eric Schroeder, his time in the army proved to be the perfect foundation to help him drive growth and innovation as a technology pioneer.

Once a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant, Eric learned valuable lessons on persistence and relationship building and now translates these skills into his corporate identity.

Eric’s favorite lesson from the army, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast,” has truly shaped his career trajectory. This lesson has steadily pushed him toward bigger and better leadership positions, including head of global safety operations at Uber and VP of operations at Ghost, an autonomous driving company.

We recently interviewed Eric on our podcast, where he shared his life story and how every position he has held—in the army and corporate world—helped him foster innovation on a global scale.

Know When to Persist and When to Quit

During his time in the Special Forces, Eric realized the people who passed training weren’t always the biggest or strongest. They were the ones who didn’t give up. He said, 90 percent of the time, people quit of their own accord simply because it felt too difficult at that moment rather than persisting through the pain to focus on the end goal.

If you don’t quit, you can get through almost anything, Eric said—no matter how difficult the task might be.

However, on the flip side, “pride is expensive.”

Knowing when to quit is just as important. Eric said: “If I look back at all of my mistakes, they’re due to pride. You don’t ask for help early enough in something. You don’t ask for directions. You hold onto that pride, and you don’t let it go. And that’s really, really expensive.”

Eric said you need to ask yourself, “Am I quitting because I’m a quitter, or am I quitting because it’s the right thing to do?”

The same lesson applies in business. A good leader knows when to persevere and when to pull the plug on a project. While perseverance can lead to innovation, pride comes with a cost. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions.

Define What Victory Means to You

Eric’s experience at companies like Ghost and Uber allowed him to see several ways global innovation can work.

At Uber, it was helpful to have a decentralized approach where teams from around the world were allowed to experiment with different tactics in their local markets. “The decentralization approach allowed Uber to have a team in Mexico City experimenting, and a team in Amsterdam doing something completely different, and if the idea worked, then you could scale it globally,” Eric said.

But at Ghost, he’s seen success in a more centralized approach where a core leadership group focuses on solving complex, tactical problems. If you are in an early-stage company, the business leaders need to be heavily involved up front to pave the way for creativity and technological innovation down the road.

Innovation looks different for every company. How do you know what ingredients you need in your next decision to get to where you want to be?

Eric looks to the future, analyzes the end goal, and works his way back to identify what his next step should be. “I think it’s trying to start with that theory of victory, right? So what’s the theory of victory for this next phase? And what’s the best way to get there?” Eric said.

When you know what you need to succeed, it becomes easier to make good decisions for yourself, your team, and your business.

Get to Know Your Allies

If you want to create an innovative, cohesive culture, you have to invest in the people on your team. When you care about the people you work with, it enables you to move beyond a purely transactional relationship. It builds a cohesive workplace culture where employees feel empowered to innovate and grow.

A cohesive culture is a vital component of a successful business, especially on a global scale. Eric saw this firsthand with Uber, which has offices in over 60 countries.

According to Eric, when you expand your business, you have to choose the right employees first; then, you have to dedicate time to them. Choosing employees with the right mentality, taking the time to mentor them, listening to their challenges, and working together towards solutions leads to a strong company culture.

It’s easy to fall into a transactional mindset as your business expands. But the more time and effort you put into your employees and teams, the more likely you are to create a unified global culture where ideas can thrive.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

Eric’s experiences, both in the military and in the business world, have shaped who he is as a leader. From his various positions, he learned how to persevere, adapt to different strategies, and invest in people, all of which make him a strong leader.

To drive innovation in your business, you must first cultivate your leadership skills and allow your experiences to shape your decisions.

Remember, your rise to success doesn’t have to be meteoric. Slow and steady wins the race.