Sino-American Business and the Battle of Austerlitz…

The Past is Behind Us...

What do the two of these have to do with each other you might be asking or you might also be just asking, “what is Austerlitz”?  So let’s start there as fought on December 2nd 1805 the battle of “Austerlitz” then in Moravia now known as Slavkov u Brna, Czech Republic was the first engagement of the War of the Third Coalition and one of Napoleon’s greatest victories.  Here Napoleon’s 68,000 troops defeated almost 90,000 Russians and Austrians under Russia’s Alexander I.

While there is a lot of material written regarding the Napoleonic battles, what set this battle apart is it’s said that Napoleon in this engagement  “fought like the Chinese” and some even point to influences of Sun Tzu (Art of War).  As here Napoleon used an unexpected dense fog to cloud the advance of St. Hilaire’s division, and when the Sun of Austerlitz ripped the mist apart.  The Russian soldiers and commanders on top of the heights were stunned to see so many French troops coming towards them, that the French forces were able to easily overrun the position with the vantage of surprise.

So what do we have here, Napoleon used current conditions to his advantage, he did not stick with his models (as the Austro-Russians did) and he abandoned the past.   While one might think using the current conditions was commonsense, think again as how many times in business with our models of the past we “over look” the current?  The housing bubble was one example; the media for years kept asking “how long can this go on” however no one looked up from their Credit Default Swap models based upon the past to see the headlight of the coming train.

Here is where east and west depart ways as in the Sino-belief system, history is nothing more than a  bunch of unrelated events and what matters is the “here and now” and not what happened ten minutes ago.  Tolstoy in “War and Peace” wrote of Napoleon as coming to the battle field of Austerlitz as “a man in love” with no plan and concerns only for the moment.  While history says a little more than Leo on the topic, his pose strikes an interesting point as when we are in “love” we are in the moment and it was the “moment” which provided the inertia for the French Emperor to begin his campaign.

As children in western cultures, one of the first things we learn either by rote or cliché is that “history repeats itself” and why is that?  Again in Western cultures we are trained to accept and react to historical models from an early age.  So of course history will repeat itself as we make it repeat as we re-create the cycles in one fashion or form.  Whereas in the Sino-Cultures, history is considered a thing of the past (pun intended) as being in the past means it doesn’t have to repeat as its water under the bridge which has already past thus made its way to the sea.

This finally brings us to the Sino-American (or East meets west) business practices as without getting into heady mathematics*, real time operations will typically out perform well planned models save for “outlier” cases.  In short we westerners need to abandon 150 years of rote industrial planning mentality for a more agile understanding of the “here and now” moment just as Napoleon did on the battlefield of Austerlitz two centuries ago and our eastern colleagues do today…

*Note: this is based upon probability theory whereas the “act” of flipping of a coin is 50/50 based upon it dual potential however because of the “physical nature” of the coin a ratio of 100/0 can be obtained, however this is an “outlier” as it’s a manipulation and not the norm [Uncertainty Envy of Physics MIT page 39].  It is also worth noting too that the later comment is a good example of why history repeats itself as the model (coin flipping machine) forces order into an unordered system.  However entropy in the second law of Thermodynamics will eventually lead this model to failure resulting in a “Black Swan” event.

About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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