Soldiers are trained to operate in life-threatening situations in new locations while leading others to achieve common and individual goals. This experience contributes to soldiers’ acquisition of success-prone characteristics in several ways:
Competition. As a meritocracy, soldiers compete with one another to increase chances of praise and promotion. This hones one’s need for achievement, and it places soldiers squarely in control of their own destiny, thus emphasizing an internal locus of control.
Experience with Risk. Soldiers learn to operate in a risky environment. They gain experience in minimizing foreseeable risks through preparation and training, and they learn how to continue pushing towards an ultimate purpose when risks exist that cannot be overcome in a new and changing environment. To achieve missions, soldiers learn to innovate by using all available means to accomplish their goal when surprises arise, as they often do during battles. To minimize the amount of surprises, however, soldiers conduct extensive training and planning to have a strategy for success before entering into a battle. They learn as much as possible about the environment, and based on their knowledge they take calculated risks; they minimize risk-taking to ensure safety.
Human Capital. All militaries conduct basic training as a means of indoctrination and fast-paced learning. This usually provides soldiers with security-focused skill sets along with discipline, and most militaries force soldiers to complete at least basic education, including literacy programs at the very least. In addition, soldiers are often provided unique opportunities for international education from allies. Further, if military members stay in the service for several years, they experience both implementation and staff roles throughout their career, making them prime candidates for knowledgeable policymakers and social agents who know what it is like ‘out there.
Life Skills. The nature of the military provides soldiers with ‘life skills’ that help them function in the world. For example, they learn to work with technology, usually including the internet and email. They also gain experience in handling personal finances with a regular paycheck. In addition, soldiers interact with individuals outside of their local area for idea-sharing and achieving a broader point of view. Finally, soldiers are offered leadership at relatively low levels, where many of them are responsible for subordinates and for carrying out tasks.
Rauch and Frese (2000) show that each of these characteristics—need for achievement, internal locus of control, innovation, planning and strategy, low risk-taking, human capital, leadership, and life skills—are directly related to success and entrepreneurship. The risky performance-based environment in which soldiers operate is comparable to the atmosphere an entrepreneur faces, especially in developing countries where risks can be minimized through preparation but the institutional environment is such that risks will always be inherent.
On a national scale, policymakers should consider taking advantage of these characteristics through policies that translate them into the civilian realm, such as through a mandated ‘civilian reintegration program’ before a soldier demobilizes. The goal of this program is to tailor their psychological characteristics that were gained in the military towards productive civilian activities.
This can be done by identifying and praising the specific success-prone characteristics described above, utilizing a variety of case studies to focus the skills they have gained to the civilian workforce, and providing business training, which could include components of management, accounting, and marketing. Additionally, soldiers’ success-prone characteristics could be indirectly translated through using the military as a training apparatus to educate civilians and other military members.
Such policies aimed at increasing the supply of success-prone citizens, when complemented by policies that facilitate identification and financing of these individuals, can lead to a culture of private sector entrepreneurial success and aggregate economic growth.