Be more SAS – Screwball and Subversive

When organisations fear their own imminent demise, they can respond in a couple of ways. They can batten down the hatches and hang on to what they have, do the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Or, they can throw caution to the wind, get creative and take some risks! This might be what Christ was alluding to when he said in Matthew chapter 10, verse 39, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

A fantastic, if slightly left-field, real life example of this is the birth of the SAS which is being dramatised on the BBC currently. It’s 1942 and the British Army’s supply chain in North Africa is stretched across 500 miles of desert making it incredibly vulnerable to enemy attacks. Like cutting off air to the body, to prevent vital supplies getting to troops on the front line will be lethal. That’s when one bright spark, ‘Jock’ Lewes, comes up with the idea of parachuting saboteurs behind enemy lines to take out German planes while they’re still on the ground.

He persuades a couple of men from his regiment and an old friend from army training corps days to help him do a trial run. Unfortunately, one of the parachutes Jock has stolen is damaged and his mate, David Sterling, suffers a near fatal fall. Yet, even this brush with death does not deter them. They then find out that spy, Brigadier Dudley Clarke, has already created a fictional regiment called ‘Special Air Service’ (SAS) in order to demoralise the Nazis. So now they only have to convince the upper echelons of the military establishment to let them start recruiting just 60 soldiers to their maverick new venture.

They are looking for very specific individuals. Lewes explains, “In a world where there are no rules, no order, no organised plan, certain men are identified by war itself as natural executors. And those natural executors take matters into their own hands. I’m bringing together men of a particular calibre. The others are all insane, in jail or, like me, in despair.” One scene which particularly struck a cord with me was when a 3-page document is handed out to all the new recruits and Sterling says the first page is a list of objectives, then there’s a list of rules and finally an inventory of all the resources they have at their disposal. The camera then zooms in and we see that every page is blank!

To me there are many resonances with pioneering and entrepreneurship. We too need to think beyond the tried and tested, take risks for the sake of the bigger picture and find the qualities which mean we struggle to thrive in hierarchies, come into their own when we’re given the freedom and autonomy to follow the unpredictable pull of the Spirit. An actor in the series, Tom Glynn-Carney, says of this first band of brothers, “…these were the perfect cohort. They weren’t followers, they were extroverts, wild and untamed. And they were willing to put themselves on the line to make an impact…”

That’s me! But where, I wonder, are the leaders who would put their trust in crazy ideas, give pioneers a blank page to work it out as they go along and not expect too much in return until a genuinely new way is found which, like Heineken in the 70s, refreshes the parts others fail to reach. Well, maybe this is part of the problem. Still looking to those in authority to give permission, when actually the lesson of SAS Rogue Heroes is it’s enough they turn a blind eye, leave well alone and don’t mess with the magic!