The 5 Elements of Capability

What does it really take to be able to accomplish something? What if you want to be competitive at the same thing?

First a word about what would allow me to write on a subject like this. Just a few short years ago, I was a Navy SEAL sniper spending my days in Iraq hunting people. Sounds harsh, huh? I would like you to think about it from a competitive standpoint though. My team and I had to build skills and capability to be able to “compete” on the battlefield. We had to do it before deploying and we had to build those skills BETTER than anyone we thought we might fight against.

Since that time, I’ve built several businesses helping people build skills and capability in different domains and my philosophical bent has allowed me to explore, test, and confirm what I’ve observed to be what I now call the “Five Elements of Capability”. As in any theory of observable fact, I put forth the theory to be tested, confirmed, disproved, and/or used if it will make your life better. For me, I use it in all my competitive learning events and practices.

Let’s first define capability: The simplest definition in Webster’s is power or ability. I’ll take it a bit further and say the power and ability must exist at the time needed to take care of a situation or concern. (Hint: Not after the situation is gone.) For an example, let’s say I got a flat tire along the highway and need to get to work (the “situation”). If I have a good spare, knowledge to change the tire, skill to manipulate the equipment, and commitment to get it done, I will say I have the capability to take care of the situation. Getting a good spare 3 days later didn’t help me in this situation. It had to all exist for me when I need it.

Simple so far, right? Let’s say now that I’m in a pit crew at NASCAR and every second counts for my driver to win the race. This is a competitive situation and different from the one above (even though I’m changing tires in both). Now, I still need all the elements stated, but since I have to be better than others, I also need coaches and teachers to help me learn, and serious practice to become more competitive. So lets hold onto the two distinctions of capability and competitive capability while we look at the five elements in detail.


A commitment to take care of the situation or concern must exist first. Most of the time, pain or displeasure is the trigger for this type of commitment. In that way, pain can be a good thing. Either way, the commitment must exist before the situation presents itself and you must be clear about all the other elements needed to take care of it. There is a level of seriousness when commitments are made since there are costs associated with them. If I commit to learn how to change a tire, that means there is another 30 minutes that I’m not resting my bones (or whatever). Many people do not know how to make commitments because we see broken promises all the time. They are everywhere. To build a strong commitment, it takes practice. Try one today. Commit to do something by the end of the day and do it. See what happens in your head and what it takes to get there. I will say it is not easy.


This is the trickiest element by far. All of the other elements flow into this one and knowledge supports all of the other elements. Let’s go through it. Knowledge is the mental capacity to know what the problem is, the commitment needed to take care of it, the equipment needed, how do use it, and if it’s a competitive situation, it all needs to be better than anyone else trying to do it. That means you need to know what others are doing and what their standards are. That’s a lot, huh? Let’s go back to my sniper days. As a sniper, I had to know how to shoot my rifle well. That means I had to know in what situations I would find myself to use my gear and knowledge. I had to learn from very, very good teachers how to do it. (This is a key point!) I had to learn about the equipment and how to manipulate it (see practice below). I also had to know my competition and how we would compete. This, by the way, had life and death consequences. Then I had to put it all together to build my knowledge. Somehow, that knowledge kept leaking out of my head and my body (why couldn’t I pull the trigger the same every time?). I suppose that happens to us all. The point is that acquiring this knowledge is a never-ending process if you want to maintain competitiveness! Hmm, sounds like a big commitment, huh?


You must have the right equipment at the right time to be able to use it. This takes knowledge of what the right gear is and the situation you might find yourself in. Then you have to buy it, maintain it, and prepare the gear to be used. This part isn’t really rocket science, but how many of you have a multi-tool on your body, backpack, or car everyday? Do you have a jack in your car? Are you sure? If you have a gun in your home, do you have ammo? Do you have a safe to keep the gun in and the kids out? Cleaning materials? Accessories for it? The big issue with equipment is that people don’t put enough thought into it or don’t have enough knowledge to buy the right gear and accessories.


Really, why would I need a coach or a teacher? Can’t I learn from a book or the internet? In a way those things are “teachers” but then the question becomes, how competitive do you want to be? Are you in business? You better know that business is competitive as hell! What other areas are you competing? Coaches provide feedback on your commitments, knowledge, equipment and practice so you can keep getting better at a skill. They keep you from making deadly or costly mistakes. Coaches and teacher need to be accomplished though. I wouldn’t want a person who has never built a successful business coaching me on building a successful business. It’s amazing when you look around how many of us are “sold” on non-qualified coaches and teachers. Seek out the best!


Like I said earlier, knowledge and skill “leaks” out of us every day. We are not robots and when we acquire skill it has a shelf life, usually measured in day and weeks. When we make our commitment to building a skill, we decide if that skill will be competitive or not, which leads to how we will practice. How often do you need to practice changing a tire? Maybe once every couple of years. How about Fire Drills? Twice a year? How about a sales presentation? Every week? What about shooting your handgun? This is a tricky one. In what situation would you find yourself needing to pull a trigger? I would say it would be life and death and the consequences very serious. No matter who you are, I would say that you should practice COMPETITIVELY for situations like this. Coaches and all.

How do you practice? With the purpose of building skill every single time. In order to get faster, more efficient, and better than any competitor. One skill at a time and then put them all together. Get feedback and compare yourself against your past work and other’s doing the same thing. Coaches can really help with practice.

That’s it. The Five Elements of Capability (in brief). This is meant an an executive summary and a template. Obviously much more detail and grounding lie below my assertions above, but this is enough to help you think though any skill-building exercise. If it’s training for a triathlon, business or warfare, these elements must exist for building any kind of capability. Try it on for size, skill-building is a skill, after all.

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