You can always gain knowledge about human endeavors, including your business, from successful history lessons.  How did a young, unknown Napoleon inspire a ragged, mutinous, half-starved army, to march and fight better than anyone else?  Why, back in 1796, could this young man dominate and control generals older and more experienced than himself?  Let’s look at the pieces of the puzzle that evolve from this history of humankind [1].

More a Mathematician

More a mathematician than a general was the opinion that a contemporary of Napoleon’s offered, not unlike the accolades given John Sebastian Bach, viewed by many today as much a mathematician as a musician.  To our own thinking it seems that this same sentiments rings true with the series of books that describes the running an enterprise as a mathematical inevitability – The Respect Revolution [4].  Why? There are several parallels, which are as follows.

Applying Ideas of Others

According to Chandler [2] Napoleon emerges as a brilliant applier of other people’s ideas rather than as an original military thinker.  Isn’t that what Albert Einstein said about himself too [3]? Here then we also hit upon a theme common to the teachings of the 12-volume series The Respect Revolution [4]: the thought that the ability to use ideas and concepts of others accelerates not only learning but also the practical application of that learning.

 The 80% Rule

“There are in Europe many good generals” Napoleon declared in 1797, “but they see too many things at once.  I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body.  I try to crush it, confident that secondary matters will then settle themselves.”  Uncle Len offered Billy the beaver a similar sentiment in The Best Dam Business Book in the World [5]: “In any new endeavor be content with locating 80% of your objective and assume you will be able to fill in the remaining 20% later……. The 80% rule allows you to get on with things, to avoid dither and delays.  It is based on having the confidence that, by hook or by crook, you will be able to adjust to the missing 20%.”

Know your Enemy

Above all, Napoleon realized the importance of knowing the character and talent of his enemy.  The Climb to Excellence [6] says that you must recognize the character of your enemies and your friends, and everyone in between, if you want to get results. The personality characteristics you can expect of humankind are outlined in Chapter 3 of that book, those concepts derived from more history – the work of Hypocrites in 350 BC (and a further example of the application of the ideas of others).   And how do you deal effectively with those diverse characters? You must understanding the human drivers of each personality type including their fears and concerns, which are detailed in The Evolution Pyramid [7], thus offering business generals a means to carefully maneuver around, and take advantage of the ‘inexplicable’ behaviors of others.  For example a P fears that things will not get done and that the P will end up having to do it so you must make sure the P understands that you will get ‘it’ done.  The A fears confusion and chaos so you must ensure that the project will be handled in an orderly, organized fashion.  The V fears not being appreciated, so you must make sure that you recognize the V’s contribution.  The F fears not belonging, so you must drive home that ‘everybody who counts’ is going along with the issue.

The Field of Battle Determines Empires

“Napoleon’s maxim that ‘it is upon the field of battle that the fate of fortresses and empires is decided’ was borne out as his great war machine re-drew the map of Europe, routing Austrian and Prussian military might.” [1] And it is within the boardrooms of America that corporate empires are formed and destroyed as strategies are evolved, directions set and actions implemented. How those Boards should consist and what they should do is outlined in reference [7] and the means by which the strategy can be set up makes up reference [13].

Chaos Theory Returns

Chandler [2] says that (a) Napoleon claims he had no set plan of operations;  (b) Napoleon’s success was to a large extent due to his flexibility and (c) he used basic, consistent principles that he invariably applied.  Chaos theory [8] [9] [10] operates without a set plan of operations (a) engaging in improvised problem solving (b) responding globally to the current needs.  It is this skill of thinking locally, acting locally with a set of simple, consistent rules (c) that, from the collective actions, produces global results that are usually ideal – the true characterization of chaos theory.

Getting Cooperation

Napoleon set an importance of gaining not only the obedience but also the affection of his rank and file. One book of The Respect Revolution series, Volume IX, Feeding or Starving the Organization [11], is devoted to suggesting how you gain respect of your rank and file and turn them into ‘owners’ of their assignments instead of ‘tenants’ – how, in effect, they become ‘obedient’ to the master goals and form the ultimate level of cooperation: consistent cooperation. It also points out how the top performers invariably have, or are accompanied by, an excellent relationship with their immediate superiors.


History is a wonderful teacher.  All human endeavours are related to behavioural traits, which have changed very little over historical times – ever since the evolution of humankind.  In fact it is argued that not much has changed since the evolution of the ape [12] for, as far as conflict, empathy, power struggles, conspiracies, love-making, and peace-and-war are concerned, we behave the same way as the chimps. It seems we have a lot to learn from the distant past.

* * * *

We wish you the best for the New Year and hope that 2006 will have you meet your challenges and battles with success.