Business is war

“We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.”

Epictetus, Discourses, 1.2.32

Back in the days when war was a series of summertime raids, soldiers spent their winters in training. Every day of the winter.

Today’s employee is like a soldier. When at the front lines, she is interacting with colleagues, dealing with a supplier, negotiating with a customers, or meeting with a government official. Ethical bullets are fired at her and compliance grenades lobbed at her. The key to winning each raid is in the training she received previously.

In too many companies, the training is provided once, during a kind of boot camp after enlistment. In other companies, the training is repeated but once-a-year. Rare are the companies that prepare their soldiers for battle every winter day by embedding their values in every act and every communication.

Which is why so many soldiers are wounded or die in battle, and why so many companies lose wars.

Culture and habits

Culture is simply an outcome of our processes.

Put another way, culture is an outcome of our habits.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Epictetus would recommend that we break our bad habits by simply abstaining from the behavior for one day, then try for two days, and so forth until we’ve built a chain of days. And then the goal was not to break that chain.

Most leaders have a weakness that affects the culture. It could be a short temper, telling inappropriate jokes, a lack of transparency, procrastination, condescension, or worse. The way out is to resolve to correct these behaviors for one day, and then again the next day. To build a chain and then not to break it. As that chain grows stronger, so does the culture.

Hat tip to Ryan Holiday and today’s entry inĀ The Daily Stoic.

All or nothing

“We don’t abandon our pursuits because we despair of ever perfecting them.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 1.2.37b

Too often in large organizations we lose flexibility. If we can’t do something for our 100,000 employees, we don’t do it for any of them. Or if we can’t be sure it’ll work, it’s already dead.

In the complicated world of ethics and compliance, we can’t wait for certainty before taking steps to address the risks we face. This is especially true now that the world is moving at an ever-faster pace. Our job is to create some measure of certainty that our proposed actions are going to generate progress. We learn from that experience (faster than if we simply tried to predict an outcome) and repeat the process.

Today, reject the all-or-nothing mindset and take action, however small.