“What’s the weight of a snowflake?” a sparrow asked a squirrel whilst sitting next to it on the branch of a pine-tree watching snow falling. “Actually, nothing”, replied the squirrel. Last week, said the sparrow, I was counting snow-flakes falling on a branch of a pine-tree, 3.789.754, and when the 3.789.755th fell, the branch broke. What snow-flakes are falling onto your company and can make it change forever, if only enough are falling? Have you ever thought about that? I would like to introduce you to an approach taken in ancient China, that might deliver a new perspective to look at the way you lead in this time of crisis.
“Empires wax and wane; states cleave asunder and coalesce.” starts China’s great fourteenth-century novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (San Kuo Chih Yen-i). Sounds familiar these days, doesn’t it? OK, the speed of change was a different one back then. Messages were transported by horse courier, not by e-mail or DHL. Ad hoc meetings on airports, 14 hours project team meetings with sandwich breaks or conference calls, the emperors never heard of. Good old times are irrevocably gone. What is still available is the knowledge these emperors possessed back then on how to deal with significant changes of an empire. And there is a lot to learn on how we deal with companies, internally and with reflection to competitors.
To the emperors a state was a living organism, part of the universe: dynamic, complex and to are large extend unpredictable. All actions (or omissions) undertaken were planed and evaluated in the context of the whole. No single actions, no linear approaches towards one part of the whole. Everything was considered in the context of all other measures and possible reactions. Thus all actions they took to modernize their empire or enter into a coalition where characterized by a bundle of aligned measures which influenced their empire as a whole. And, they had constant feedback of how their bundle of actions was received, what reactions it created. Based on that, they pursued their plan or adapted it. All this resulted in sustainable progress and well being.
When did they fail, you’ll probably want to know. Well, whenever the emperor became arrogant and stopped listening to what was going on in the living organism. When he only dealt with parts of the empire. When he only considered his own personal well being. And, when he allowed his warriors, advisers and civil servants to do likewise, or relax, simply administer and avoid the risks involved with decision making. If you take a closer look, that is exactly why leaders and consequently their companies fail today.