I had the best army profession an 18-year old guy can imagine: a paratrooper in a special operations unit. Although the two-year army duty was obligatory, it was such fun that these 730 days flew by. My schedule was so busy with military exercises, learning 32 different subjects, and studying for exams, that I had no time to be bored.

During a large-scale military drill, my unit got an order to organize and execute sabotage against a field command center of our "enemy". We had no certain tasks - our company commander left it to our discretion - so we could kidnap a soldier or an officer, hijack a vehicle, or simply steal someone's weapon depending on luck and opportunity. As it was just a drill, we were not allowed to damage infrastructure, hardware, or to use deadly force. As an unwritten rule, we were not to even hurt someone, save for their ego.

That command center was not an easy target at all; a small round hill in the middle of an endless, open, flat field. The wheat had just been harvested, and the approach was clear for miles. In contrast, the hill was covered with large trees and dense bushes. They must have known we were going to pay them a visit because they were clearly well prepared. Observation units reported that their guard consisted of two infantry squads, working on alternate shifts - 24 soldiers at a time. This meant one sentry guard every 60 feet - a very dense defense line. All sentries were located at the outer perimeter of the hill. No active night vision equipment was detected. And passive night vision equipment certainly wasn’t a concern - that would have been a rare luxury in 1988.

I will spare you the fairly technical explanation of how we got past the guards - but rest assured that we got into the core of their command center unnoticed. Since the night was cloudy and moonless, we had to move and act very carefully and deliberately - like cats - as not to create any noise. Our eyes adjusted to the dark, but we knew that the eyes of the guards were already adjusted to the dark, too. Sometimes during such night raids we faced objects that were difficult to recognize. Every kid knows how a vehicle looks, how a tent looks, how a human looks, but what was that rectangular object just in front of me, next to the big tent? My fingers slid carefully onto it. Even through my black textile gloves, I felt that it was colder than the warm August air. It had even formed vapor drops on its outside. I soon was able to define it: a metal tub, full of cold water and probably some ice as well. What a luxury! I was ready to bet on what was cooling below the water’s surface. But who would cool their beer during the most important military exercise, with the chief army commander monitoring it? The answer is hidden within the question; if the chief army commander was monitoring it, it belonged to the chief army commander.

The feeling of having even the most complicated situation under your control is a good one. We stood in the middle of the enemy's castle, just a meter from their king, totally unnoticed, with a world of possible actions at our feet. Analyzing all our choices and all the risks, keeping in mind our own king who sent us there and considering the man he was, I made my choice: I procured the most precious gift of all for my liege. For the sake of staying quiet and remaining safe, my team members supported me without objection.

It was a challenge to complete our mission without making a peep. Once we’d safely returned to our vehicle, a few of our smiling comrades surrounded us chanting, “Let’s see what Santa brought this time.” I opened the bag, and they stood frozen and speechless for a few seconds.

“Are you crazy?” one finally managed to ask.

I simply smiled and told them to drive. It turned out I knew my commander just as well as I thought; he was unable to stop laughing when he saw our loot. We all got ten days extra holiday as a reward. He assured us we would be granted leave to visit home as soon as we were back from the exercise. He was crazily happy. When the end of the exercise was announced the next morning, he hurried to call the commander of the other army and to invite him to our camp… for a drink. :) It was such an embarrassment for the other commander, and we’d never seen our own commander so happy and proud.

What does this have to do with business? I tell you this story to remind you how important is to know our customers and to know what makes them happy - just as we know the important people in our lives. Sometimes they simply need the smallest thing to make them happy, so before you rush to get the moon and the stars for them, invest in knowing them and their needs better. And here’s a bonus tip: it works not only on the battlefield or at the office, but at home too… as long as you know your audience (don’t try surprising your wife with a box of beer).  ;)