4 entrepreneurial lessons from 300

Ok, weeks behind the rest of the world, I went to see the film “300” earlier tonight. Although no military history buff, I had heard of the battle at Thermopylae and had a rough idea of the story line. To me the film was good but a bit too over the top. Things I didn’t like: Monstrous caricatures of “Persians”, historical inaccuracies and the “head chop off, body falls to the ground” scene. Is it just me or does that always seem ludicrous? The story is good enough on it’s own not to warrant all the added silliness. The photography and choreography were generally astounding though, it’s a real tour de force in digital film making and editing. (4 out of 5 stars)

Anyway, I’m not here to do a film review. What I am here to talk about is how we can apply lessons learned at the battle to entrepreneurship today.

Although fewer in number the spartans were equal to a much larger force of persian troops. The advantages they had given themselves to perform in this way can be boiled down to 3 main points.

1.Training

Having trained from an early age, the spartans excel at sword-shield-spear combat. As boys they were forced to learn how to overcome opponents, while many of the persians were slaves or amateurs with little or no training. The training and conditioning the spartans undertook gave them an edge against any foe one on one.

Training is important in our lives too. Although I’m not suggesting armed combat, practice in any discipline is key to success. Practice refines our abilities, and opens us up to take on bigger and bigger steps towards our goals. The important thing is to get this practice before going into battle. Start now, it’s never too late.

2.Will

As free men, the spartans were fighting of their own volition. They were not forced by their superiors into the situation. When the spartans charge, the persian slaves run. When the persians charge, the spartans hold their ground.

Having the will to be victorious in what you do is key. Athletes the world over say the same thing – It’s not skill that got them to where they are, it’s the will from within that pushed them constantly onwards. To quote a Flaming Lips song title: The Will Always Negates Defeat. If you want it enough you can do anything, don’t give up because times are tough.

3.Tactics

The training and willpower of spartans only got them so far. The real key to spartan victories is the organisation they could maintain in a battle. The cornerstone of the spartan system of fighting system was the close-ranked phalanx. Fighting in tight formation gives improved defense, and leverages their individual ability to deal with any opposing forces.

Tactics in business are the things we can use and do to leverage our own abilities. Using a varied “team” of people helps you to cover the spots you’re not good on and improves your defense. You can also see tactics as using systems that leverage your abilities can allow you to control situations that others cannot. Systems and teams are keys to building high quality, resilient businesses

4.Positioning

The spartans chose a narrow pass between steep hills and the sea. Using the terrain to their advantage they limited the number of enemies that could face them at any one time.

The word “niche” is a good place to start in this section. Identifying an area of market that is currently unexploited can give you good coverage against the onslaught of competitors. Once you’re in it’s hard to get you out. Many business pitches start with “if I can gain 20% of this large market, i can make x profit”. Targeting large and well-developed markets is always going to be tough, because the terrain is not in your favour. Aiming for smaller, underdeveloped niches means that the company you build will be all that more resilient.

In the end all the above strategies were not enough to save the lives of the spartans. I suppose my closing point will be knowing when to quit. Not all battles are winnable, so although it may pain you greatly remember that being open to the possibility of dealing with your enemies can save your life. When Bill Gates attempted to license the Apple operating system he was rebuffed. Soon after Microsoft developed it’s alternative to the Apple GUI system, and after several revisions became the industry standard. Perhaps if Apple had licensed their software then, we’d be using Apple OS’s.

It’s easy in hindsight to say, but tipping battles in your favour and avoiding those you can’t win is the easy route to victory.

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