What did the Ancient Greeks ever do for us? Quite a lot it seems.
The Ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about Strategy. In fact, their perspective was far more rooted in reality than that of the modern corporate warrior.
The early Greeks viewed life as a voyage in which you would head in a general direction. Constantly navigating between Cosmos and Chaos—Order and Disorder with the realisation that winds from both sides could provide useful momentum. But sailing too close to the craggy shoreline of either extreme would lead to destruction.
Despite the best endeavours to trim the sail or steer the rudder, severe conditions could not always be outrun. Some loss was inevitable. Unpredictability was something to be exploited, hence the ‘strategy’ of sailing in dispersed flotillas. Loss was expected, minimised and tolerated, but the final objective achieved.
Contrast this with the modern, titanic, corporate warriors. Insulated out of necessity (internal meetings, financial reviews, presentations to analysts, fear of bad customer feedback), they delegate strategy to staff who, with finger-crossed confidence, report that every future has been anticipated, every contingency planned. This well engineered business will withstand any iceberg. Nothing left to chance.
Or so they believe. It usually ends in tears—or an unfriendly take-over.
Better then, in a complex world, to have eyes on the weather, a hand on the tiller, and a crew who can trim sails expertly and quickly. The salt may sting the eyes, the sun may burn the skin but your early warning system of change will be speedy and alert
In contrast to the Modern Manager Method (“On a scale of 1-5 where 5 is best”), the Greeks saw life as a series of spectra, with great power and great danger at the extremes.
In addition to Cosmos and Chaos, they saw approaches to strategy ranging from strength (biē) to cunning (mētis) as represented by Achilles and Odysseus respectively.
But the force and valour of biē was accompanied by the dark side of rage and bloodlust. The flexibility and fluidity of mētis, well suited to deal with ambiguity, had the sinister accompaniment of the trickster who believed the ends always justified the means.
So while an extreme would be more potent in one setting, over-indulgence and over-reliance in one form would end in self-destruction.
Oscillation around the centre, Aristotle’s Golden Mean, would always yield the best of both.
Another Grecian spectrum pointed to the two forces which tug at the human spirit. These forces, always in tension, are the need to be independent (as an individual) at one end, and the craving to be a socially important member of a larger group.
But this also points out the challenge for the youth today.
Plainly presented, they can have either of the two extremes, fashion v fanaticism; one whimiscal and nourished by planned obsolescence; the other dogmatic, intolerant and unchanging. And given the noise in current life, it is these extremes which stand out from the crowd and encourage a divide.
We have a duty as a society to provide something more substantial to young people. Obviously. But these are the customers of the future and our business models and products have to offer something more enduring than ‘the next new thing’ as the primary driver of life.
And therein lies the opportunity.
What products and services can gratify the individuals need for expression, yet balm the yearn to be part of a larger group.
What is your Golden Mean offer?
Where are the Ancient Greeks when you need them?