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Odysseus: The original strategist

I like to think of Odysseus as the original archetypal strategist.

(In our western tradition, at least.)

Odysseus was known was the wiliest of the Greek kings that laid siege to Troy. A bit of a trickster, really.

The siege lasted for 10 years. It was a war of attrition. Sometimes the Greeks won a bit. Other times the Trojans won a little bit. Mostly, people died and little progress was made.

It was Odysseus who came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse (see below).

(Actually, the myths tell us it was the goddess Athena who whispered it in his ear.)

The Trojan horse allowed a handful of Greeks to defeat the Trojans where the whole army had failed for a decade.

And that is the heart of strategy. Winning by being cleverer and by doing something different. Not trying the same thing harder (longer, faster, better, etc.) despite disappointing results.

These are lessons from history which we would do well to apply when developing modern business strategies:

  • Don't try and match your competitors' strategies.
  • Look for a different, novel and surprising approach.
  • Focus on small things that can make a disproportionately big difference.
  • Don't show your hand too early.
  • If what you're doing hasn't been working, its time to try something else.

What do you think?

By the way: Stephen Fry's retelling of Troy (see right) is a fantastic read. If you want to know more about Odysseus and his tricks, I highly recommend it.

A quick summary of the Trojan Horse

If you're not familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse, here is a quick summary of what is one of the most intriguing and well-known tales from Greek mythology, particularly from the epic conclusion of the Trojan War.

After a gruelling and unsuccessful siege of Troy that lasted ten years, the Greeks devised a cunning plan to break into the city's impregnable walls. The brainchild of Odysseus, the scheme involved constructing a gigantic wooden horse, ostensibly as a peace offering to the Trojans but secretly harbouring elite Greek soldiers inside.

The Greeks built the horse and left it at the gates of Troy, while the main Greek army pretended to retreat, hiding out of sight. The Trojans, believing they had finally seen the Greeks off and won the war, debated what to do with the horse. Despite warnings from Laoco├Ân and Cassandra to distrust the Greek gift, the Trojans, overwhelmed by curiosity and the thought of a Greek surrender, pulled the horse into their city as a trophy of their apparent victory.

The celebration was short-lived. Under the cover of night, the Greek soldiers hidden inside the horse emerged and opened the city gates to the rest of the Greek army, which had returned under the cover of darkness. The Greeks launched a surprise attack, leading to the fall of Troy. This pivotal event effectively ended the war, with the Greeks using deception and tactical ingenuity to overcome their enemies. The term "Trojan Horse" has since become synonymous with trickery and the subversive infiltration of an enemy, making it a lasting symbol of strategic deception.

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