Marketing Thought

What’s With The Alexander Stuff?

There is a cottage industry of people writing about business using the lessons of Alexander the Great. I have only one question: What’s with the Alexander Stuff? The Macedonian king was a terrible bloke, and there are plenty of easier, and much more novel, ways to illustrate business situations.

Business As War: Not Really

Business isn’t war. It is very, very different. I’m not sure why we need to seek so many analogies to famous battles. When the first person did it then maybe it might have been interesting. Now, what’s the point? It is like being an Elvis impersonator — even if you think the original Elvis was tolerable (why?) now is the time to just stop doing it.

Mukul Sheopory takes the classic storytelling approach where the lessons are hidden. There is a paired Alexander story and a ‘modern’ business story. With this technique, it might be my fault as a reader that I missed key messages. Yes, there were some interesting bits. Okay, I realize I am biased but all the interesting bits seemed to be in the modern business stories. There is definitely good stuff there.

They followed the “cost-plus” approach, meaning they would charge NASA whatever it “cost” them to deliver the work, “plus” a fee on top of that, which was a percentage of the cost itself… the vendors had no reason to reduce any cost inefficiencies… because doing so would decrease their profits.

Sheopory, 2020, page 155
Cost-Plus Pricing Rewards Inefficiency

What’s With The Alexander Stuff?

So normally when I approach these ‘historical’ books I ask, why? And I think ‘please don’t learn from Alexander’. Here the book would have been much better if the author had just ditched the entire half on Alexander.

As ever, people seem to lose their critical faculties when talking about Alexander. We get the classic that he cared more about his troops than himself. (Didn’t stop him from getting the troops killed in vanity invasions). What is more, we hear that he avenged the invasion of Greece by the Persians. If that was his core aim why did he invade India? The Indians didn’t invade Greece. The justification, pathetic that it was for Alexander’s first invasions, completely dries up when he attacks India.

He did not want to stop at avenging the wrongs committed by the Persian king’s ancestors, but wanted to create an empire that reached into the farthest regions of the known world.

Sheopory, 2020, page 163

To translate, Alexander just seemed to think it’d be fun to invade India. If your CEO says the modern-day equivalent of a massive, immoral vanity project please say no. Or at least let’s not laud the CEO as a hero more than two millennia afterward.

For more on Alexander relevant books — note please don’t think that I’m ‘recommending’ them because I am really, really not — see here and here.

Read: Mukul Sheopory (2020) Bucephalus’ Shadow: Ten Business Lessons From the Life of Alexander the Great, self-published.

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