Is it the 11 secret herbs and spices, or the way it's cooked?

LTCOL Ben McLennan

Is it the 11 secret herbs and spices, or the way it’s cooked?


It would be fair to judge fast-food chain KFC one of the most successful global enterprises in history[i]

While the story of KFC’s early years sits somewhere between fact and folklore, there is no disputing its current day prosperity. Indeed, from humble beginnings, it now boasts some 20,000 outlets in over 125 countries. Its annual sales exceed $25 billion and its market value was last estimated North of $7.4 billion.[ii]

What is the secret to KFC’s success? What is the formula for their fortune? I suppose there is a raft of contributing factors. KFC’s long-running, industry-acclaimed and highly effective marketing campaign cites a quandary as the secret of their success; the formula to their fortune.

It is either the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices, or the way it's cooked.[iii]

Generations of readers would recall all forms of advertising affirming this perplexing predicament. Some readers may have even pondered this puzzle when sinking their teeth into a delectable drumstick of the Colonel’s best!

Extraordinary success is extraordinary success – no matter the field or endeavour. It could manifest as expertise in the sporting arena, the scientific/academic domain, the world of entrepreneurialship or in training leading military capability.

In the case of training expert military capability, there is sufficient empirical, anecdotal and experiential data to affirm its secret of success; its formula of fortune.[iv]

First, training must be accessible. Daily, elite sports men, women and teams readily access sporting fields, swimming pools, surf-breaks, running tracks, boxing rings, velodromes etc. The world’s best scientists and academics work in laboratories, esteemed tertiary institutions or think-tanks. Leading Tier 1 special forces find it easy to employ live fire ranges, mock-ups, simulators and other essential training facilities in their living areas, or at least, on their bases. In all cases, accessibility enables the ‘deliberate, focused practice,’ the ’10,000 hours’ of perfect practice, deemed essential for achieving true expertise in a skill set.[v]

Second, training must be immersive. It must prepare soldiers for the fight before they enter the fray. Replicating the chaos, uncertainty, friction and savagery of close combat prior to combat creates pre-combat veterans. It enables ’25 bloodless battles’ before actual bloody battle.[vi]

Employed appropriately, current technology, such as paint ammunition, allows immersive training. Simulation, particularly emerging augmented reality technologies - a semblance of the Star-Trek Holodeck vision[vii] or Hollywood blockbuster ‘American Assassin’ training scene’[viii] - promise a level of immersive training previously the stuff of sci-fi adventures. The best in the world at anything, true experts, seek to make their training as immersive, or realistic, as possible. You may be surprised how readily you can achieve training immersion without expensive Hollywood props or sci-fi whizbangery. All it takes is human-inspired initiative.

Thirdly, training must be facilitated. This is the human factor. This relies on centres, teams or cells of excellence; those who are the best at their trade-craft, and have the ability to coach, mentor, advise and teach others how to be expert. The best in the world at anything surround themselves with dedicated coaches, mentors, advisors and teachers.

While inseparable from accessibility and immersion, without expert facilitation, expertise is unachievable. Indeed, while one may have ready access to the world’s best simulator, without effective, accessible facilitation, the training outcome will be marginal at best - detrimental more likely.[ix]

Unfortunately, you cannot be expert in more than a few things. Accordingly, expertise compels comprehensive application, commitment, devotion. The world’s best coaches, mentors, cells of excellence consecrate themselves to actually being expert. One cannot moonlight as an expert in addition to one’s day job. Of course, creating such centres, teams or cells, and making them truly accessible, incurs a cost (generally to the way we have always done things). Fortuitously, example after example confirms the return on investment outweighs such costs.

As you can see, the components are indivisible; they’re mutually supporting. They’re not in contention. There is no puzzle. Moreover, they are remarkably simple – even if difficult to achieve in an age of distraction and seeking perfection over good enough.

In the Australian Army’s context, this trifecta has already been applied by organisations such as: the Special Air Service’s Battle Troop; the Combat Training Centre in cooperation with CUBIC; 16th Aviation Brigade’s state-of-the-art simulators; 17th Brigade’s combat casualty lanes; the Weapons Training Simulation System (for those who employ this simulator’s amazing potential); new 25 metre live fire ranges on each Combat Brigade’s base; and 1 RAR’s ‘The Yard.’

In truth, the supposed dilemma for KFC’s success is simply a clever marketing campaign. The fact is, KFC’s ‘finger lickin’ fortune relies on both the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices and the way it is cooked. They are indivisible; they’re mutually supporting. After all, without the secret herbs and spices all one can look forward to is a colourful cardboard box full of dry, tasteless fare. At the same time, no matter how well its seasoned, uncooked chicken can be poisonous!


[ii] Ibid; Iconic Global Brand, Louisville, 2014.

[iii] Apparently, it took Harland Sanders (not a real Colonel) nine years to develop his trademark seasoning. In addition, it took the invention of the pressurized cooker by LS Hartzog to enable rapid, mass-production of the KFC menu for the fast-food masses.

[iv] Ericsson, K Anders, Krampe, Ralf Th, Tesch-Romer, Clemens, 1993, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, Psychological Review, Vol 100; Prietula, MJ, Cokely, ET, 2017 The Making of an Expert, Harvard Business Review, August; Ericsson, K Anders, 2006 The Influence of Experience and Deliberate Practice of the Development of Superior Expert Performance, The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, February 28; Hess, ED, 2014, Learn of Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization, p 14; plus author’s engagement with SME in this area, including Education Officers, Psychologists and Mr Ken Murray.

[v] Ibid.

[vii] The Holodeck is the name for the advanced virtual reality system, developed by 2360, on boads Feberation Starships

[ix] Op cit footnote iv.