Some readers may recall Errol Morris’ Oscar-winning 2004 documentary The Fog of War, comprising a long interview with Robert McNamara, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson’s Defense Minister and former CEO of Ford. Always off-screen, Morris simply films and interviews McNamara and brings his words of wisdom to the viewer.

Here are McNamara’s 11 lessons of life. He applies them to his experience in government, specifically to the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and the Vietnam War. But they are equally applicable to innovators and entrepreneurs:

THE FOG OF WAR is built around eleven lessons from the life of Robert McNamara.

Lesson #1: Empathize with your enemy.
Lesson #2: Rationality will not save us.
Lesson #3: There’s something beyond one’s self.
Lesson #4: Maximize efficiency.
Lesson #5: Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
Lesson #6: Get the data.
Lesson #7: Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
Lesson #8: Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
Lesson #9: In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
Lesson #10: Never say never.
Lesson #11: You can’t change human nature.

Empathy is vital – not only with your enemy (competitor) but with your customers. America won the 1968 Tet battle, some 75,000 Vietnamese soldiers died – yet scenes of carnage on US TV catalyzed opposition to the war. In this sense the battle was lost. Failure to empathize with both friends and enemies was fatal.

Rationality is overplayed; people usually behave, if not irrationally, then non-rationally. Try to understand this non-rationality and employ it. Proportionality is important, in business and in war. Using your time and resources in proportion to priority, urgency and potential is important. And basing decisions on real data, especially in product design, is often underplayed. Be skeptical – even what you see may be misleading. Challenge your beliefs constantly; ‘read’ human nature, you probably cannot change it. And, of course, never use the word ‘never,’ because never is never forever.   

What would Google and its ‘do no evil’ say about you may have to do evil to do good? Perhaps, in defending a nation, this may be true; but rarely if ever, in business.