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Vol. 9, No. 6
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102  

©2012 William A. Cohen, PhD 

Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.


Recent Linked Articles by Dr. Cohen not  Published  in the Journal of Leadership Applications:

Do the Right Thing at the Right Time from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Exploiting Demographic Change in Your Organization from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Drucker’s Billion Dollar Reality Test  from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Marketing and Selling May Be Adversarial from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Success by Abandoning Success from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Doing the Right Thing is More Powerful Than You May Think from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Why What You Thought about Heroic Leadership is Probably Wrong from Integral Leadership Review

Uncovering Drucker’s Most Valuable Lesson from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Drucker to Leaders: Above All, Do No Harm from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Drucker’s Surprising View of Social Responsibility from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Personal Integrity – Its Risks and Consequences from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Throw the Rule Book Away and Accomplish the Impossible

© 2012  William A. Cohen, PhD  

On March 3, 1944, Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson stood with the 1st Chindit Brigade of the British Army with a commando force of 3000 men on the western bank of the Chindwin River in Burma. It was 140 miles and twenty-six days from their departure from the miniscule town of Ledo in India. They had dragged, crawled, clawed, and hacked their way through streaming jungles, up and down and around cold mountains, and fought mosquitoes, snakes and dangerous animals. Fergusson’s brigade was part of Major General Orde Wingate’s Chindit commando force. It had an almost impossible mission. The brigade was going to attack superior numbers of its Japanese opponents almost three hundred miles from its own home base, well behind Japanese lines.  The unit had a general, not a specific objective: to get right into the midst of enemy territory and disrupt the Japanese army’s communications and supply lines while creating havoc and unrest wherever it could.

After almost a month in the jungle, the Chindits stood and looked at the fast moving Chindwin River. Despite the obstacles they had overcome to get to this point, they were only at their halfway point in their planned penetration of Japanese occupied Burma. Moreover the Chindwin River represented an apparent insurmountable obstruction.  The river could not be swam. There was no bridge and due to the river’s velocity, a pontoon bridge could not be easily constructed even if the materials were available, which they were not. The river even ran too swiftly to be crossed by a boat unless it was engine-powered. To cross the Chindwin river, the Chindits  needed powerboats.

Brigadier Fergusson was aware of this fact before his departure. He also knew that there was no way that powerboats which could ferry 3000 men with supporting gear could be carried along through the jungles and over the mountains. It simply couldn’t be done. The Japanese knew it too. The mere existence of the Chindwin River as a barrier lulled the Japanese into a sense of complacency. It represented an impediment that no force on earth could overcome. Or, so it seemed.

However, Fergusson knew a secret that the Japanese, and even his own officers, did not.  On orders of President Roosevelt and General Henry “Hap” Arnold, the Chindits were supported by the 1st Air Commando Group, commanded by Colonel Philip Cochran.  Cochran had come up with a plan. They couldn’t parachute the boats in. They were simply too heavy and would be lost or damaged. However, if a landing strip could be cleared by the river, two large CG-4A cargo gliders could be landed in the space cleared in the jungle.  Each cargo glider was big enough to carry a single power boat. However, the gliders were relatively untried and had never been used in the jungle terrain of Burma previously. That in itself was an interesting innovation, but there was more.

The possibility of glider use for re-supply had been considered by others, but rejected.  It was possible for motored C-47 transport aircraft to take off with the gliders in tow. Once over the strip, the gliders could be cut loose and could glide in, and provided the strip cleared in the jungle for them suitably prepared,  it was doable. The problem was, it was a one-way ticket. Gliders had no engines. They could glide in, but they couldn’t take off on their own power again to get out. And of course, if regular airplanes could have landed, they wouldn’t have needed gliders in the first place.

However, real commandos throw the rule book away, and Colonel Cochran was not only a real commando, but an original. On schedule, the CG-4A gliders cut loose from the C-47 transport planes and landed safely. The powerboats were quickly unloaded and within five minutes were in the water with the first contingent of Chindits on the way to the east bank of the river.

Meanwhile, the glider commandos didn’t rest on their laurels. As the Chindits put the power boats to immediate use, the glider pilots began assembling and raising two goalpost-looking devices along the landing strip. Then they played out nylon tow ropes attached to the noses of their gliders. The other end of the rope had a large loop which was suspended opened between the two poles of each “goalpost.”  A pickup hook protruded from behind each C-47. Those Chindits awaiting their turn in the boats looked on in amazement.  Were the C-47s really going to hook the gliders as they flew by and whisk them into the air? Maybe, but they weren’t to see a show that day. The two C-47s were scared off by what they thought was the approach of enemy aircraft. However, the following day the C-47s swooped down, their hooks snared the nylon loops and the C-47s with gliders and pilots in tow returned to their base without incident.


Commandos Frequently Break the Rules

Commandos do things differently.  Commandos frequently throw the rule book away.  Commandos innovate. Many commandos are qualified to attack by air assault, jump out of airplanes, over mountains, underwater from submarines, on rubber rafts and speedboats, special underwater vehicles, jeeps, through jungle, over snow on ski, you name it. There is hardly a method that commandos have not used to enter the battle arena in which they will perform their duties and accomplish their tasks. This is because they are constantly innovating and doing things differently. They are in the forefront of innovation and the use of experimental and cutting edge equipment.

The glider stunt wasn’t Colonel Cochran’s only air commando innovation.  He was the first to requisition and employ in battle the then still secret “hovercraft.”  In case you’re wondering, that’s the helicopter’s original name, and those that have since employed rotary-winged aircraft in hundreds of roles both military and civilian owe a debt of gratitude to air commando leader Cochran for his pioneering work.


How to Innovate

Innovation is not only not easy, but frequently, you are likely to get a lot of opposition, and only lukewarm support. That is, until you are proved successful. Then you’ll see the old saying about “victory having many fathers” confirmed a thousand times. But business commandos just like those in the military take risks, and if you want to be a commando leader you’ll need to take risks as well. A great many of these risks will have to do with innovation. However, leading innovation is not difficult. You just need to follow these simple directions:

  • Stay current about What’s Going on in the World
  • Encourage Innovation in Subordinates
  • Know that There is Always a Way and Find It!


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 “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas A. Edison