Hi, my name is Jonathan Isernhagen and I do Analytics for Travelocity.After I presented last year, Brian and Adam suggested that this year I should speak on the topic of Sun Tzu.(10/4/2013)
…who was a Chinese general serving the King of Wu during the Spring and Autumn Period of the Zhou dynasty.
His “The Art of War” is history’s first comprehensive treatise on military tactics, influencing and inspiring thousands of leaders, both military and not.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Tzu
Including recently-deceased General Vo NguyenGiap, who surprised the French at Dien Bien Phu and ejected them from Vietnam…
….newly-commissioned Marine Second Lieutenants, for whom it is required reading….
…and New England Patriots’ Head Coach and General Manager Bill Belichick, victor of Super Bowls 36, 38 and 39.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Belichick
The Art of War contains many famous quotes you probably recognize, including:“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” Perennial drill instructor favorite “The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed in war.”And, my personal favorite as a geek competing against better-looking jocks on the high school dating scene:
Sun Tzu is so deeply entrenched in our culture that it can be hard to tell where he leaves off and we begin. Which of the following do you think he said? http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/believe_in_yourself.html
But most of his stuff isn’t nearly so catchy….“Pretend inferiority and encouragehis arrogance.”“Invincibility lies in the defense;the possibility of victory in the attack.”“The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.”
….and as with other pioneers whose work defined their disciplines….
It’s often best to honor their contributions but look for inspiration elsewhere…
So instead of re-hashing Sun Tzu, I propose to:introduce some of the best quotes of all of military history;Briefly place them in their original context, and then;Discuss whether and how the quote’s ideas can help guide our business and career decisions today.Workable? Okay.
The first quote comes from a Scandinavian even more obscure than St. Olaf, whom none of us would know without “The Golden Girls.”
Gutavus Adolphus is unknown to Americans but historians consider him one of the greatest commanders of all time. He:put Sweden on the map as a European power;reversed the course of Thirty Years War, and;Could have ruled if not for his death at the battle of Lutzen in 1632.
His methods marked a sea change in the way that war was fought (Pause)At a time when professional armies were starting to look flashier in the field, he prescribed a uniform of a “sad green color” which anticipated modern camouflage;Armies of the time had enormous baggage trains that slowed them to a crawl. Adolphus staged pre-positioned magazines to make his armies light and fast.The cannon of the time were giant and heavy. Adolphus fielded a 3.5’ 400 pound Four-pounder capable of being moved by four men or one horseInstead of loose powder and balls, his infantry used paper cartridges that they could bite and ram in, tripling their rate of fire.Instead of promoting officers based on political connectedness, he rewarded merit and fielded the best officers whether young or old.Infantry were peons in other armies of the time, but Adolphus cross-trained all of his soldiers to be able to fill other roles in emergencies.(p 267) Army was quartered in the town. “According to regulations, a soldier could demand bed, salt and vinegar, in addition to the right to cook at the host’s fire. All other extractions were regarded as looting.” (p 268) “The Swedes do not defend their men with walls,” ran a contemporary saying, “the Swedes defend their walls with men.” “Everywhere on the march, about the camp, n the thick of the cavalry melee, the green feather and worn leather buff coat of the king were always visible to his men.”
The Thirty Years War took place between 1618-48, mostly in Germany and pitted Catholic Spain, the Italies and Bavaria against Protestant England, Denmark, the United Provinces, Bohemia (of the Rhapsody), eventually Sweden, and Catholic France.Ferdinand II, Roman Catholic Emperor, claimed Bohemia (of Rhapsody fame), Bohemia’s Protestant magnates offered it to Ferdinand the Elector Palatinate. War ensued between:Catholics: the Emperor, Spain and BavariaProtestants: France (Catholic), Bohemia, Denmark, England, the United Provinces and eventually SwedenAdolphus had been continually at war since being crowned, but avoided warring with the Hapsburgs until he felt they threatened Sweden(War Through the Ages, p 262)
Sweden was a poor agricultural country, 5/7 of its annual budget went to support an army of 40K troops Upon learning that the Adolphus had crossed the Baltic with 13K men, the Emperor Ferdinand exclaimed, “So we have another little enemy!”Adolphus’ foot soldiers wore:a sleeveless peasant smock, loose knee breaches and woolen stockings of homespun drab. Adversaries called them “ill-appearing clods.” To which Adolphus responded….
“My troops are poor Swedish and Finnish peasant fellows, it’s true, rude and ill-dressed; but they smite hard and soon they shall have better clothes.”
And smite they did, in a long series of maneuvering battles which completely reversed the course of the war, and;might have delivered a Protestant Europe if not for Adolphus’ battlefield death.
So, what can we pull from Adolphus’s quote? For our professional success, is it more important to be well-groomed and –connected or ambitious and talented?
First, let’s stipulate that it is always best to not be an actual slob, but how much time and effort should we spend on appearance? Many geniuses seem to have done their best work partly because they weren’t concerned about appearances.
Wildly successful General George S. Patton equated appearance with competence… (click) …he thought they were inseparable. Wikipedia:His uncompromising leadership style is evidenced by his orders for an attack on a hill position near Gafsa which are reported to have ended "I expect to see such casualties among officers, particularly staff officers, as will convince me that a serious effort has been made to capture this objective".
Band of Brothers author Steven Ambrose hated Patton and agreed with Willie & Joe cartoonist Bill Mauldin (click) that Patton’s cleanliness obsession hurt the war effort. 1) Lt. Bill Leeseman was in a reconnaissance battalion of the 101st Engineer Combat battalion which suffered a four-hour delay because he could not retrieve maps without first shaving and cleaning his jeep.Pp335-336Citizen Soldiers, Stephen E. Ambrose
1) John T. Molloy discussed American executives’ herd mentality and said clothing conformity is critical, but 2) allowed for differences by professional community and;3) Wrote decades ago.
Veteran consultant Richard Moran, who’s seen thousands of employees limiting their careers in hundreds of companies, says not to make clothes a liability.
Researcher Don Asher did a regression-type analysis of the characteristics of people who truly move up. (Click) Good dress turns out to be a recurring theme.
Is it better to schmooze or smite that task list?
Author KeithFerrazzi makes a great case for the former. If you really hate the Old Boys’ Club, he will make you want to punch glass.2) He pays lip service to being at least a little competent, but then describes how he dropped the ball on his first team project, redeeming himself “Risky Business”-style by throwing parties for target client CEOs.
Despite coming off as a work-dodgingflake, he offers greatnetworking suggestions:In conversation, be an real human: your networking goal is to start real friendships. If you have one really good conversation in an evening, that’s a success.Spend all your favors on others’ behalf. Don’t hoard them for a rainy day.Put yourself among potential employers.
Malcolm Gladwell echoes this, and says that a surprising number of job leads come in via wide-network “occasional contacts.”“Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell illustrates the wild success of so-called “connectors” by contrasting the midnight rides of super-connected Paul Revere vs. colonial unknown William Dawes, then shares surprising statistics on the career value of a wide web of loose connections.“The Tipping Point” p. 54
On the other hand, the Bell Curve authors tell how adoption of the SAT in the 1950s put a damper on Old Boy admissions and the recruiting spotlight on the brightest students from around the nation.see American society as increasingly meritocratic, where objective measures of cognition and performance make it easier to tell who can actually get the job done. The Ivy League schools used to admit purely on connection, but the SAT destroyed this.
A whole industry has grown up around effortless delivery as the key to advancement and the path to inner peace.The importance of performance is reflected in the rise of productivity sites like Lifehacker and Asian Efficiency, and the numberous Getting Things Done fans of David Allen.Allen’s thesis is that success comes from clearing your plate with the minimum effort.
Efficiency guru David Allen compares your brain to a computer and recommends you close all the applications you aren’t using by:Emptying all the incomplete tasks in your mind onto a single list, then;Monotasking your way down the list.Promising yourself to review and reprioritize the task list at certain intervals so you won’t think about it in between.He’s also a zero-inboxer:Only work e-mail when you’re able to process messages, not just snack.Turn messages into tasks by pulling out the deliverables and steps to deliveryAlways list the very next step in a multi-step task so you can execute between meetings in a sushi coma.Be leery of stale tasks that sit on your list. Re-examine the steps to delivery, or export to “someday/maybe” list.
Steve Martin gives us the anti-schmoozing creed. Don’t depend on the goodwill of others. (Click)“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
So, to summarize:Dress well enough that it doesn’t distract. Don’t “network,” but do grow a wide web of authentic friends.Ask for, and accomplish, tough, business-driving tasks.Ask your boss for tough, direct feedback:Say that you’re going to want a great LinkedIn review, and to;Correct anything that would stop that from happening.
1) Horatio Nelson became one of history’s greatest admirals despite being afflicted by malaria, partial blindness and ironically, seasickness.2) He was brave and personable but, also vain and insubordinate, as we shall shortly see…Horatio Nelson was the sixth of eleven children born to the Reverend Edmund Nelson and his wife Catherine, who was a grand niece of England’s first prime minister.Appointed midshipman by 1771 , rose through the ranks despite being afflicted by malaria, complications related to his battle wounds, and (oddly enough) seasickness.Brilliant, brave and personable but also insubordinate and vain.At the start of these events, Nelson ranked as second in command, …as a result of disobeying a direct order of the Admiralty.
In the winter of 1801, Napoleon was rampaging all around Europe but couldn’t cross the channel. The Royal Navy tried to deny war materiel to France by searching and seizing neutral ships.A league of armed neutrality sprang up composed of Denmark-Norway, Sweden, Prussia and Russia. Nelson had to pry the Danes loose from the League before Baltic ice melted and the Russian ships could come to their aid.
This involved destroying a line of heavy hulks anchored off the Copenhagen shore. Nelson engages, working down the line of ships….1) Ranking Admiral Parker had just married an eighteen-year-old and was reluctant to sail into battle.2) The Danish fleet was arrayed with shore batteries as a line of floating batteries, a gauntlet through which the Brits would have to pass3) The Brits had no reliable charts so Captain Thomas Hardy spent the night in a rowboat taking soundings of the channel among the Danish line.4) Denmark defied Sir Hyde Parker’s demands to leave the league, so he had to use force. Nelson had drawn up the plan of attack….Attacking the Danish fleet would have been difficult as Parker's delay in sailing had allowed the Danes to prepare their positions well. Most of the Danish ships were not fitted for sea but were moored along the shore with old ships (hulks), no longer fit for service at sea, but still powerfully armed, as a line of floating batteries off the eastern coast of the island of Amager, in front of the city in the King's Channel. The northern end of the line terminated at the Tre Kroner (Three Crowns — Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, referring to the Kalmar Union) forts armed with 68 guns (equal to twice the broadside of a ship-of-the-line). North of the fort, in the entrance to Copenhagen harbour, were two ships-of-the-line, a large frigate, and two brigs, all rigged for sea, and two more hulks. Batteries covered the water between the Danish line and the shore, and further out to sea a large shoal, the Middle Ground, constricted the channel. The British had no reliable charts or pilots, so Captain Thomas Hardy spent most of the night of 31 March taking soundings in the channel up to the Danish line. Even so, the British ships were not able to locate the deepest part of the channel properly and so kept too far to seaward. http://etc.usf.edu/maps/pages/400/442/442.htm
…but just as the fighting is at its most intense, his superior Admiral Parker flew the order, “Leave off action.” Nelson’s put a telescope to his blind eye with the remark….Another man might have redeemed himself by more respectful conduct, but as a naval genius Nelson took a short cut with a new act of insubordination. When Copenhagen defied England’s ultimatum with shore batteries mounting 696 guns, Sir Hyde Parker had no choice but to use force. Nelson had drawn up the plan of attack, but at a critical stage of the bombardment his superior flew the order, “Leave off action.” Then occurred the famous incident of Nelson’s placing the telescope to his blind eye with the remark….
“I really do not see the signal.”
After which he foughtthe Danes until they agreed to an armistice, after which they left the League.
What points of view does Nelson’s quote contain? Is it better to be:Assertive and independent and, or subordinate and a team player;Daring and opportunistic, or reflective and prudent?
1) The apex of obedience is when you receive orders from above and pass them on like they’re your own.2) In his short story “The Damned Exec,” LCDR Stuart Landersman describes a battle in which a cruiser’s after mount captain refuses to engage destroyers coming from the rear until he knows where the order is coming from. “The Damned Exe,” by LtComdr Stuart D. Landersman
The destroyers get some shots in and some shipmates probably die. But in the business world, delays don’t cost lives.
Top-down command and control makes sense if the following things are true. The most capable person is leading the org, with the best combination of knowledge and creativity.The leader possesses all the information needed to drive decisions, and;Mistakes and delays are deadly.
Japanese management—which largely replaced command & control in the 80s—assumes nearly the opposite.Deming’s 14 pointsThe 14 PointsAdopt the new philosophy. Stop depending on inspections. Use a single supplier for any one item. Improve constantly and forever.Use training on the job.Implement leadership.Eliminate fear.Break down barriers between departments.Eliminate management by objectives.Remove barriers to pride of workmanship.Implement education and self-improvement.Make "transformation" everyone's job.
Professor Deming’s 14 points, on which the Japanese / Total Quality Management movement is based, includes such ideas as:Allow workers to understand their roles in the "big picture." Eliminate fear of failure.Ensure that your leaders are approachable and that they work with teams to act in the company’s best interest.
Today most companies come down between the two extremes. GE CEO Jack Welch used this four-quadrant grid which divides employees by performance and team play. Poor-performing malcontents get booted right away.Hot-running team players get rewarded and promoted.Welch’s innovation was to for low-performing team players to be trained and improved.High-performing malcontents are shared with the competition
The satisfaction you feel when complaining about a boss or client’s dumb decision is a form of compensation. A psychic reward. If you prefer to be paid with money, practice the phrase “Help me understand.”There are many forms of compensation, few of which are financial. Schoolteachers get the satisfaction shaping young lives. Cowboys get to ride the open range. If you choose, you can forgo pay increases and promotion for the privilege of speaking your mind. If you prefer your paid with money, then every time you hear a stupid idea, practice the phrase “Help me understand.”In Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” General Cummings tells his protégé LT Hearn to stop sabotaging his own career through insubordination.
Humility helps you with teammates as well, since the answer to modern business problems is seldom in only one head. James Surowiecki has compiled lots of evidence of how none of is as smart as all of us, and the most successful people are those who can extract all relevant knowledge from the brains of their co-workers to make solid decisions.
Anytime you ask for something, you run the risk of annoying people. When pushing hard for a deliverable, be mindful of the relationship cost and be on the lookout for ways to re-invest.
Must you strike while the iron is hot?
Time boosts the impact of good and bad choices, so we should have a bias towards immediate action. Something worth doing is worth doing now.
Patton moved fast to keep opponents off-balance. The lightly-armored, undergunned Sherman tank was no match for Tigers or Panzers, but well-suited to Patton’s brand of maneuver war.
So, why do we delay tough tasks? The first reason is that it’s fun right now.
Author Neil Fiore attributes procrastination to a whole host of issues and lays out a plan for its elimination.
But there are good strategic reasons for delay.
1) One of the best lines in “Lawrence” is when Colonel Brighton looks out on the chaos of Arab-run Damascus and says “we can’t just do nothing.”2) “Why not” replies Allenby. “It’s usually best.”
Movement reveals information. The first to mention a number in a salary negotiation typically loses.
Your speed preference should be informed by the consequences of both types of failure: seizing bad opportunities vs. failure to seize good ones.
General Powell suggests waiting until you’re 40-70% sure, then acting quickly. Wait past 70% and you’ll often miss the window.
From Nelson we take the following thoughts:1) Be intentional about obedience, make it a conscious choice:If a dumb order is easy, execute it quickly/cheerfullyIf it becomes a limiting pattern, lateral or leave.2) Try to understand the “why” behind stupid-seeming ideas embedded in tradition or your teammates’ heads.3) When choosing to delay, know exactly what new information will set you back into motion. If you can’t put your finger on it, maybe you shouldn’t stop.
Our final quote donor needs no introduction.
In 1805 Napoleon wanted to attack Britain but Nelson defeated his Admiral. The Austrians began the war by invading Bavaria with an army of about 70,000 under Karl Mack von Leiberich, and the French army marched out from Boulogne in late July 1805 to confront them. At Ulm (25 September – 20 October) Napoleon surrounded Mack's army, forcing its surrender without significant losses. With the main Austrian army north of the Alps defeated (another army under Archduke Charlesmanoeuvred inconclusively against André Masséna's French army in Italy), Napoleon occupied Vienna. Far from his supply lines, he faced a larger Austro-Russian army under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, with the Emperor Alexander I of Russia personally present. On 2 December, Napoleon crushed the joint Austro-Russian army in Moravia at Austerlitz (usually considered his greatest victory). He inflicted a total of 25,000 casualties on a numerically superior enemy army while sustaining fewer than 7,000 in his own force.
Shortly afterward, the Austrians attacked Bavaria. Napoleon came out from Boulogne and defeated them at Ulm, occupied Vienna, then faced down an Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz, considered his greatest victory.After the battle, he advised:The Austrians began the war by invading Bavaria with an army of about 70,000 under Karl Mack von Leiberich, and the French army marched out from Boulogne in late July 1805 to confront them. At Ulm (25 September – 20 October) Napoleon surrounded Mack's army, forcing its surrender without significant losses. With the main Austrian army north of the Alps defeated (another army under Archduke Charlesmanoeuvred inconclusively against André Masséna's French army in Italy), Napoleon occupied Vienna. Far from his supply lines, he faced a larger Austro-Russian army under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, with the Emperor Alexander I of Russia personally present. On 2 December, Napoleon crushed the joint Austro-Russian army in Moravia at Austerlitz (usually considered his greatest victory). He inflicted a total of 25,000 casualties on a numerically superior enemy army while sustaining fewer than 7,000 in his own force.Of the campaign, he at one point said:
“If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”
In his quote, Napoleon applies two of the nine principles by which military strategies are judged, known by the acronym MOOSEMUSS. The first “M” stands for “Mass,” which is the synchronization of force to deliver overwhelming power at the decisive place and time.The first “O” stands for “Objective,” which is the delivery of said force towards a clearly-defined, decisive and attainable goal.
In our context, Napoleon is telling us to:Carefully choose the tasks we take on, then;Fight to the finish once we begin.
It’s a warning against wasted effort, which turns out to be a surprisingly common historical theme.In Luke 25, Jesus warns against halfhearted conversion….
The corporate version of this target selection is embodied in BCG’s portfolio matrix. It splits a holding company’s divisions into four buckets based on their market growth and market share: Low-share, low-growth “dogs” are liquidated, Low-growth, high-share Cash cows are milked;, High-growth, high-share Stars are retained and intested-in.Question marks are objects of more evaluation.All of this acknowledges that we have limited resources which have to be concentrated for maximum impact.
However there are those that take the opposite view. Author PeterBregman claims that you won’t grow as a high achiever without setting goals that have a 30-50% chance of failure.18 Minutes, Find your Focus, Master Distraction and GetFailure is inevitable, useful and educational. Just don’t give up—stay focused over the year—and it will pay off.”
The second part of Napoleon’squote is about determination. There are dozens of motivational posters dealing with persistence…..
…some deadly earnest….
…some played for comic effect. (click)It’s hard to know which are the more hilarious, or depressing. 2) The audience for motivational literature is those who keep grinding but just haven’t made it.
Happily, Malcolm Gladwell offers evidence that if you:have nonzero talent and are willing to spend ten thousand hours perfecting a skill, mastery awaits.
And persistence was one of very few topics on which President Calvin Coolidge became verbose.
Our Napoleon takeaways are:Know your capabilities and options.Choose your projects well. Be aware of your opportunity cost.Once engaged, grind it out. Good things may be happening even as the goal seems hopelessly out of reach.
In closing, let me say that I hope you will have many chances to employ these thoughts and strategies, but never in actual war. Thank you.
Things I Wish Sun Tzu Had Said: History's greatest military quotes and how to apply them to further your career.
Things I wish SunTzu had said
Things I wish Sun Tzu had said
History’s greatest military quotes
and how to apply them
to further your career.
Chinese strategist and general
“The Art of War”
…General Vo Nguyen Giap…
Architect of Dien Bien Phu
“The Art of War” is on
Author of famous sayings…
• “The greatest victory is that which
requires no battle.”
• “The more you sweat in peacetime,
the less you bleed in war.”
• “If you wait by the river long enough,
sooner or later the body of your
enemy will float by.”
Match the Quote
“If you believe in yourself,
anything is possible.”
“You have to believe in
“Believe in yourself and
…and not-so-famous sayings
• “Pretend inferiority and encourage
• “Invincibility lies in the defense;
the possibility of victory in the attack.”
• “The quality of decision is like the welltimed swoop of a falcon which enables
it to strike and destroy its victim.”
Whom we respect and admire….
• “You know you're getting old when the candles cost
more than the cake.”
• “Middle age is when your age starts to show
around your middle.”
• “A sense of humor is good for you. Have you ever
heard of a laughing hyena with heart burn?”
…but no longer actually laugh at.
1) Introduce some of the best quotes throughout
all military history, where “best” =
a) Spoken by a top admiral or general
b) Applicable to modern corporate careers
c) Good springboard for discussion/debate
2) Recall their original context
3) Discuss relevance in modern business context
Gustavus Adolphus Magnus
• Warrior King of Sweden
• 12/9/1594 – 11/6/1632
• Led armies perpetually
from age 17 until death
• Took Sweden from regional to
Europe’s 3rd largest nation
• Reversed the course of the
• “Father of Modern Warfare”
Uniform of “sad green color”
Anticipated modern camouflage
Provision from pre-positioned magazines.
Light, standardized field artillery
Improved battle mobility and rate of fire
3x greater rate of fire
Meritocracy (vs. Seniority)
Optimal leadership in all branches
Cross-training and egalitarianism
Army was flexible and adaptable,
with high esprit de corps.
For professional success in the modern workplace, is it better to
be well-groomed and -connected, or talented/ambitious?
Polished vs Not
Assumes a tradeoff.
Not a question of whether
to be a slob, but rather:
How much energy to
spend on appearance?
Appearance = Competence
“…following the defeat of the U.S. II
Corps…at the Battle of the Kasserine
Pass, Patton replaced Major General
Lloyd Fredendall as commander …
With orders to take the battered and
demoralized formation into action in
10 days' time, Patton immediately
introduced sweeping changes, ordering
all soldiers to wear clean, pressed and
complete uniforms, establishing
rigorous schedules, and requiring strict
adherence to military protocol. ”
Appearance = Distraction
“General Patton….was notorious for
being a martinet about dress and
spit-and-polish in the Third Army.
Patton’s spit-and-polish obsession
…not only had nothing to do with
winning, it hurt the war effort…
Eventually…Leeseman got the maps
and returned to 26th Division hq.
It was 0500 hours. The division had
been ready to move since 0100.”
Dressing for Success
“My research documents that,
in matters of clothing,
conformity is absolutely
essential to the individual
success of the American
business and professional man.
Executives in particular
constitute a herd…”
A view from outside
• Buy clothes that will
last a long time. Lean
towards wools and
• Know what shoes to
wear and keep them
in proper shape.
• There are work clothes, school • Buy good luggage and
clothes and church clothes.
Don’t mix them up.
When dealing with young people,
getting promoted, there are basics:
• Show talent.
• Bring ideas.
• Bring solutions with problems.
• Do two jobs at once.
• Be a joy to be around.
• Dress to win, like you belong where
you're going. Resist this and it's a
fatal flaw. Costume costs.
• Get skills needed for next job, your
• Be known.
Peasants as ICs vs. Burghers as Connectors
In praise of connections
“I watched how the people
who had reached professional
heights unknown to my father
and mother helped each other.
They found one another jobs…
and they made sure their kids
got help getting into the best
schools, the right internships,
and ultimately the best jobs.”
In praise of connections
1) Interact authentically:
a) Don’t just scatter business cards
b) Don’t look over shoulders
2) Exert yourself to help others
3) Be choosy where you network:
a) Networking events full of
desperate job seekers: bad
b) 1st/Business class: good
The value of acquaintances
“56% of those he talked to found their
job through a personal connection…
• only 16.7% saw that contact ‘often’ as
they would if that contact were a
• 55.6% saw their contact only
• 28% saw the contact ‘rarely.’
People weren’t getting their jobs
through their friends. They were getting
them through their acquaintances.”
The rising importance of merit
“Harvard was not so hard to get into
in the fall of 1952. An applicant’s
chances of getting in were about two
out of three, and close to 90% if his
father had gone to Harvard.
[By 1960] Harvard had been
transformed from a school primarily
for the northeastern socioeconomic
elite into a school populated by the
brightest of the bright, drawn from all
over the country.”
Smiting the task list
“Maybe what you’re working on is
important, interesting or useful; or
maybe it isn’t but it has to be
In the first case you want to get as
much return as you can on your
investment of time and energy.
In the second, you want to get on
to other things as fast as you can,
without any nagging loose ends.”
Smiting the task list
1) Empty your brain into the list
2) Use one list, review it often
a) Bucket by type and location
b) Top task: focus, kill, repeat
3) Turn inbox into tasks:
a) Only do e-mail when ready
b) Summarize, with next action
c) Include all needed info
4) Re-examine stale tasks
“When people ask me, ‘how
do you make it in show
business,’ or whatever, what
I always tell them — and
nobody ever takes note of it
‘cuz it’s not the answer they
wanted to hear…but I always
say, ‘Be so good they can’t
Our Adolphus Takeaways
1) Don’t let clothes/appearance overshadow
your skills and accomplishments.
a) Don’t “network” in the superficial sense
b) Do cultivate an extended web of real friends
a) Seek out challenging tasks / great resume fodder
b) Execute well
c) Document publically & precisely
Admiral Horatio Nelson
• English Admiral
• 9/29/1758 – 10/21/1805
• One of history’s top naval
• Commanded British fleets
to numerous victories
during Napoleon’s land
• BBC’s “9th greatest Briton”
Winter 1801: The Situation
French own the Continent, Brits the sea
Royal Navy searches & seizes neutral ships
Denmark-Norway, Sweden, Prussia, Russia unite
Baltic sea is thawing, freeing Russian ships
Sir Hyde Parker's priorities
Security / Risk avoidance
“I ordered my two 5” after mounts
to use high capacity ammunition
and shift targets to the two
destroyers closing from astern…
“‘But Mr. Speaks, we’re supposed
to handle the air targets; who said
to shift targets?’ my mount
1) A meritocratic system has promoted:
a) the most capable member of the organization, with;
b) the broadest cognitive bandwidth, to leadership;
2) The leader has the best combination of:
a) backwards-looking historical knowledge and;
b) forward-looking creative ideation;
3) All relevant information converges on the leader,
the only one equipped to make the right decision;
4) Mistakes or delays, can have irrecoverably deadly
consequences for the entire organization.
1) Allow workers to understand their roles in the "big picture.“
2) Eliminate fear.
3) Ensure that your leaders are approachable and that
they work with teams to act in the company's best interests.
“Neutron Jack” on personnel
The high performance/low values match
players are poison in your organization
Bitching is a form of pay
“Be an instrument of
your own policy.”
Wisdom of Teams
“Galton came across a weightjudging competition. A fat ox
had been selected and placed
on display, and members of a
gathering crowd were lining up
to place wagers on the weight
of the ox*…
The crowd guessed that the ox
would weigh 1,198 pounds.
The ox weighed 1,197 pounds.”
*after it had been slaughtered and dressed
Efficient Frontier of Collaboration
(≈not irritating everyone)
Place yourself along this curve.
Don’t antagonize co-workers
for no good reason.
Sir Hyde Parker's priorities
Security / Risk avoidance
Patton on urgency
“A good plan violently executed now is better
than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Causes of Inertia
“Procrastination is not the cause of
our problems with accomplishing
tasks, it is an attempt to resolve a
variety of underlying issues:
• Low self-esteem;
• Fear of failure and of success;
• Imbalance between work/play;
• Ineffective goal-setting, and;
• Negative concepts re: work/self.”
Brighton: Look, sir, we can't just do nothing.
Allenby: Why not? It's usually best.
Sometimes, saying nothing and waiting until the
other side makes a move is the best offense.
The Japanese have perfected this strategy.
Mistakes and Mobility
Waterfall vs. Agile: reflect the relative costs of
making mistakes vs. being outrun by competition.
Powell on decision timing
"Use the formula:
P=40 to 70, in which:
• P stands for the probably
of success, and;
• the numbers indicate the
Once the information is in
the 40 to 70 range, go with
Our Nelson Takeaways
1) Be intentional about obedience:
a) If a dumb order is easy, execute it quickly/cheerfully
b) If stupid management is holding you back, maneuver
2) Try to understand the “why” behind stupidseeming ideas embedded in tradition or the
heads of your teammates.
3) Before delaying, know exactly what new
information will make for a smarter decision.
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
• First French Emperor since
Charles the Fat (881-887)
• 8/15/1769 – 5/5/1821
• Ruled Continental Europe
• Authored Napoleonic Code
• One of the history’s greatest
Situation: War of the Third Coalition, 1805
Napoleon wanted to invade England, but Nelson
defeated French Admiral Villeneuve at Trafalgar.
Napoleon turned back towards continental enemies,
defeated Austro-Russian army:
• inflicted 25K casualties on numerically-superior force
• cost 7K casualties
Considered his greatest victory.
Synchronize to deliver overwhelming power at decisive place & time.
Direct efforts towards clearly-defined, decisive, attainable objective.
Seize, retain and exploit the initiative.
Protect one’s forces, give adversary no unexpected advantage.
E conomy of
Apply resources judiciously, leave no part of force w/out an objective.
Application combat power flexibly to place enemy at disadvantage.
U nity of
Empower one responsible commander bringing all forces to bear.
= Consequence of shock from introducing the unexpected.
Give clear, concise orders which are easy to understand and execute.
There is nothing worse than breaking the eggs
with no omelet to show for it.
1) Choose carefully the projects you commit to.
2) Once committed, fight through so something
that looks like a victory
“For which of you,
intending to build a tower,
does not first sit down and
estimate the cost, to see
whether he has enough to
Otherwise, when he has
laid a foundation and is not
able to finish, all who see it
will begin to ridicule him,
saying, 'This fellow began
to build and was not able to
Contrarian view: court failure aggressively
“Want to increase your own
performance? Set high goals
where you have a 50 to 70
percent chance of success.
According to the late David
McClelland, psychologist and
Harvard researcher, that’s the
sweet spot for high achievers.
There is nothing worse than breaking the eggs
with no omelet to show for it.
1) Choose carefully the projects you commit to.
2) Once committed, fight through so something
that looks like a victory
Genetics ≠ Destiny
For persons of at least
• 4,000 hours = teacher
• 6,000 hours = proficient
• 10,000 hours = master
Silent Cal pipes up
“Nothing in this world can take
the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more
common than unsuccessful
people with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded
genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is
full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination
alone are omnipotent.”
Our Napoleon Takeaways
1) Know your capabilities and options.
2) Choose your projects well.
3) Once engaged, grind it out, all the way through.
Focus on performing the job at hand.
Dress for the job you want to have.
Be a true friend, actively cultivate true friends.
Do what you’re great at.
Obey/collaborate or not intentionally, not emotionally.
Manage your image as a team player.
Know the costs of too-fast and too-slow movement.
Move as fast as you can without making big mistakes.
Use your limited resources wisely.
Once committed, attack the problem relentlessly.
Continue the effort, even when all seems hopeless.
Invest in developing skills you’ll use for years to come.
Parting words from Aristophanes
“Oh! Joy, joy! No more helmet,
no more cheese nor onions!
No, I have no passion for battles,
what I love is to drink with good
comrades in the corner by the fire
when good dry wood, cut in the height of summer,
is crackling; it is to cook pease on the coals and
beechnuts among the embers; ‘tis to kiss our pretty
Thracian while my wife is at the bath.”
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