Where Are They Now: Dave Sears

Dave Sears at 2013 retirement ceremony

Dave Sears has always thought a little differently from the crowd. You have to be that way to join one of the military’s most elite forces.

So when the Colorado native retired from the Navy in 2013 after 20 years of service as a SEAL officer, he took his experience to the Washington, D.C., area and decided after a little more than a year in the private sector, he had something else to offer.

“My business partner, retired Marine Charlie Black, and I both worked for a small firm in D.C. after retiring for a brief period,” he said. “We both felt hamstrung as employees and felt that breaking out on our own would give us more freedom to create a business around what we wanted to do as well as offer us a degree of flexibility and control over our futures. We saw a gap in the ability of organizations to deal with the emergent, complex world.”

Enter Xundis Global, the company that teaches CRISP Thinking to leaders around the world. Shortened from “ex undis,” Latin for “from the waves,” the name is a nod to Sears’ time as a SEAL and to Black’s Marine Corps roots. Xundis offers classes on problem solving. Teaching participants to think about their thinking, workshop promos promise to help develop new thinking skills that will allow participants to “see the world differently.”

The process draws from psychology, design thinking, systems thinking and other disciplines to arrive at some truths to help individuals solve problems—that is, when problems have a solution.

Simple problems, such as 2+2=4, are solvable and have a solution apparent to most people. Complicated problems, such as getting to the moon in a spaceship, require a subject matter expert with some serious depth of knowledge in the area. Complicated problems aren’t inherently easy or difficult, but they have layers of complexity requiring solvers to dig beneath the surface.

Then there’s the real zinger—complex problems.

Dave Sears in Afghanistan in 2003

“Complex problems have no solution,” Sears said. “It’s impossible to tell what the outcomes are going to be.”

Issues such as climate change, terrorism and world hunger have no solution because the unpredictable human element determines their outcomes.

“What we teach is how to deal with complex problems and developing approaches to deal with them,” Sears said. “You figure out where you want to go in a general direction. You don’t know the end solution. You have a range of favorable futures; so what you’d like to do is kind of define what those range of favorable futures are to you and then develop approaches to go that direction.”

CRISP is an acronym for the interdisciplinary process the company promotes. The details are revealed in class to protect proprietary rights until the trademark process is complete. Workshops cover information on how organizational cultures, mental models and cognitive blinders limit individual and organizational learning essential for navigating complexity.

Sears grew up in Colorado and Pennsylvania attending public schools. Always interested in the military, he enrolled in Boston University on an ROTC scholarship and completed a bachelor’s degree in political science. Five days after graduation, he was assigned to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, California. Only about one-fifth of the 1,000 or so SEAL candidates who start training each year actually go on to become SEALs. His initial plan was to fulfill his 4-year commitment to the Navy and get out.

“After four years, I was still really enjoying myself,” Sears said.

He went on to become a troop commander at Naval Special Warfare Development Group, where he led the ground assault on an Iraqi paramilitary stronghold to successfully rescue a United States prisoner of war. Later in Colombia, Sears helped plan and execute a successful rescue mission of U.S. and Colombian personnel who had been imprisoned for more than five years by the guerrilla group FARC.

After 20 years of service, he decided to retire to have more time with his family. His children are now 8 and 10.

Sears still tries to work out every day either by running, swimming, biking or just doing bodyweight exercises in his backyard.

In addition to running Xundis, Sears is also a noted speaker on decision making and analysis of global threats. He is a regular guest commentator on Fox News and Fox Business.

>> INTERVIEW: Dave Sears on Afghanistan strategy:

His many military decorations include the Bronze Star with Valor, three Defense Meritorious Medals, a Meritorious Service Medal and the Presidential Unit Commendation. He is a 2007 Distinguished Graduate of Naval Postgraduate School with a master of science in defense analysis.


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