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Annalese Sharrock Strategic Director
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Aristotle said that life is defined by movement. When you stop moving (i.e. when you stop hunting or gathering or breathing or pumping blood) you die. It’s the same in business. The unmoving company can quickly find its products, its delivery, its marketing, its treatment of employees out-dated.
So, as business owners and managers, how do we ensure we are leading organisations that prioritise life-giving movement?
For help answering this question, let’s turn to one of the great strategist of all time … Napoleon.
His remarkable rise to power and then his conquering of Europe at the turn of the 19th century was truly astounding. His secret weapon was his mobility, his ability to move fast. So, here are five tips we can borrow from the Little Corporal, not for extending a dictatorship as was the case with Napoleon, but for growing businesses that truly impact our world in meaningful ways:
When Napoleon took the reins of the French forces, the country had just emerged from an incredibly bloody revolution that turned traditional power structures on their heads. In doing so, it gave everyday soldiers a sense that they could reach previously undreamt of heights—Napoleon himself was a great example. This sense of limitless opportunity gave his soldiers a vibrant and eager spirit when it came to going the extra mile and when the situation called for fast action.
Business Take-Home: Your people are your greatest source of movement and the right people, in the right setting, will ensure an organisation-wide culture of vibrant movement.
Napoleon’s forces were famously fast, both on the battlefield and in their general movements around Europe. Each soldier carried his own gear, which meant they weren’t slowed down by laborious baggage trains. And when they reached the battle, they defied the rigid fighting patterns so popular at the time. They fought much like the French rugby team does when it gets a sniff of victory, with flare, inventiveness and an ability to strike from anywhere.
Business Take-Home: The lean business can act far faster than those tied down to a certain game plan. A great example of how that leanness might take shape is by out-sourcing the non-core tasks in your business. Not to turn this into self-promotion but this is where we, at Strategy Collective, have positioned our People and Culture, Brand and Marketing, and Accounting services, in order to help businesses stay lean and focus on their core competencies.
A brilliant spin off of having a mobile team, is that you have more options at your disposal. Napoleon was the master at not allowing himself to be cornered into one game plan. As the situation demanded, he would retreat and give the enemy ground in order to keep his options open and then, when the best course of action showed itself, he would strike with full force.
Business Take-Home: I’ve written before about the need to find your niche and your specific target market and to not get distracted by bright lights, but that doesn’t mean you close the door entirely to new options. A new cafe might start with just coffees and finger food in order to not spread themselves too thin. But that doesn’t mean they’re closing the door to seated dining and an evening offering at some point in the future.
Napoleon had an incredible network of spies all around Europe that he could trust. This gave him an invaluable birds eye view of the real situation, not only of the movements of his enemies but also their mental state—if their mental state was pride he would organise a planned retreat to egg on their bravado and if they were timid he would utilise surprise and speed in attack.
Business Take-Home: Your accountant’s monthly reports, utilising customer surveys, and having a mechanism for analysing threats and opportunities on a regular basis will help to give you the information you need to make great strategic decisions. However, beware of information overwhelm—this is where having a good team of professionals around you to distill information to digestible soundbites is important.
In the Korean War, American pilots were out-performing their communist counterparts despite flying aircraft that had inferior manoeuvrability. What American theorists believed to be making the difference was the American pilots’ superior ability to observe, orient, decide, and then act thanks to the American cockpits having better visibility. This cycle of observe, orient, decide and act has become known as the OODA Loop or Boyd Cycle (named after American pilot and strategist Joh Boyd) and has immense applications to business strategy.
Business Take-Home: Are there any points in your organisation’s OODA cycle that are slow or broken? Is it your organisation’s inability to observe? Or maybe decision-making processes aren’t clear? Fixing these chinks in the cycle will help you respond fast to opportunities or threats, thus improving your ability to move, stay alive and thrive.