Business lessons from Niccolo Machiavelli
Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian diplomat and writer, lived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, a time when Italy consisted of a large number of independent cities, all in a virtually perpetual state of war. As he navigated through this complex and dangerous environment, Machiavelli learned the skills needed to survive and thrive. In his most famous and important work, The Prince, he outlines the mental attitudes and strategies necessary for achieving security and being successful in a hostile environment
Today, Niccolo has a bad rep, considered a mercenary who sought to achieve power at any cost. Yet, while most of us live in a more civilized kind of society than his, where competition is not so obvious or so brutal, under the surface there is always a strong current of rivalry in our business lives. As the world becomes more connected, competition is becoming more obvious and we need to be skillful in navigating through the many difficulties we may encounter
So what can Machiavelli teach us about being effective in our modern, interconnected world? A surprising amount as it turns out……
“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage”
There’s a widespread myth that the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ is composed of the characters for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity.’ This is actually wrong, but the sentiment is sound – as the saying goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ We can’ avoid trouble and misfortune, but effective people can turn any setback into something good. If you can always do this, how can any harm come to you?
“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him”
Intelligence begets intelligence, so if you surround yourself with intelligent employees and colleagues will mean that every aspect of your business is handled by the best people possible and this will ensure the best possible service or product
“I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it”
Things are always changing. People with power and influence will naturally seek to maintain their position and privileges, while others with fewer resources – and less to lose – will try to rise and displace them. This is true in nature and it is true in all organisations, despite any amount of talk about collegiality and inclusively
Effective people are aware of this and, if not actively seeking to change things, are sensitive and able to respond well to the natural and inevitable change taking place around them
“Never was anything great achieved without danger”
People are often afraid to take risks. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread – awareness and preparation are important, but action is necessary, and with action there’s always risk. We may not like stepping outside our comfort zone, as it may feel difficult and dangerous, but it’s an essential part of our growth. Like sharks, we’re always moving – and if it’s not forward, then it will be backwards. Danger and insecurity are the only option for effective people
“The wise man does at once what the fool does finally”
It’s obviously sensible to plan well, but if something needs to be done, it should be done swiftly and decisively. There are many reasons for this – it makes you appear more confident and certain in your actions, and it means you get the most from your decisions with the smallest amount of time wasted. People are often afraid of tasking decisive action, through fear of confrontation or what others might think of them, but as everyone knows, the only way to tear off a sticking plaster is to do it quickly. Dragging things out only makes matters worse
Everything changes and that includes ourselves. We aren’t who we were five years ago. We have learned; we have changed; we have grown. Many people are not very deliberate about this, and drift along allowing themselves to be influenced by circumstances. Effective people respond to change in a more proactive way, consciously moulding themselves with self-reflection and education. Times are changing faster than ever, and if we are to survive and thrive, we need to keep up. Dinosaurs didn’t and look what happened to them!
“Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great”
History is full of people overcoming adversity. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. To achieve great things, the effective person will find a way around any problem
“The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it”
Experience counts. Put it to good use when competing against less experience colleagues and remind them of your wisdom often
Machiavelli tends to get a bad press these days – his advice is associated with getting what you want by deceit and treachery. But effective people aren’t partial to where they find insight – precious stones are often found in mud!