Sprite

Lutine Bell in Lloyd's of London

Lutine Bell in Lloyd’s of London

The french word “lutin” is translated as “imp” in English.  The feminine form is usually translated as a “sprite”. In truth the realm of the faery world is poorly understood by humans and it is difficult to nail down exactly what a sprite is.  Sprites can be fairies, imps, pixies, elves, dryads and so on.

To my mind the correct translation of Lutine should be Nymph, a nubile female spirit who is associated with water.  There were nymphs associated with lakes, pools and rivers, but also nymphs of the sea.  The most famous of these were the Nereids and in particular Thetis, who married Peleus and gave birth to Achilles.

The name Lutine was given to a frigate of the Royal French Navy.  Originally called the “St Jean” she was berthed at Toulon during the siege that made the reputation of Napoleon.  The British under Admiral Hood took the ship and renamed her the HMS Lutine.

In Oct 1799 the Lutine was carrying gold bullion to Germany when she went aground on a sandbank in the West Frisian Islands.  She sank with total loss of crew and cargo with only one survivor from a crew and passengers numbering over 240.  Also lost was the shipment of gold.  Despite many attempts only a fraction of the bullion has been recovered.

Some timbers from the ship were salvaged and made into a chair for the Chairman at Lloyd’s who bore the insurance.  Also salvaged was the Lutine bell, which hangs in Lloyd’s to this day, where it marks especially important occasions.

Originally the Lutine Bell was rung to mark the fate of an overdue vessel to the trading community, so that everyone would get the information at the same time.  It rang once for a loss and twice for a safe return.  The bell now has a crack and the practice of ringing for returned ships has ceased.

During the second world war the German propagandist Lord Haw Haw quipped that the Lutine bell never stopped ringing during the war of the Atlantic.  In actual fact it rang only once during the war, when the Royal Navy sank the Bismarck

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.

……………………John Donne

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Fabian Strategy

Borodino

The Battle of Borodino was fought on Sept 7th, 1812.  It was the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars with casualties around 70,000.

Fought on the approach to Moscow it was the final attempt by the Russians to prevent Napoleons “Grande Armée” from reaching the capital.  In one sense the battle was a failure for the Russians, who were yet again defeated by Napoleon.

On the other hand, as at Eylau in 1807, the Russians were beaten but not defeated.  They retired from the field intact.  They did not surrender.  The Czar did not bend the knee and agree surrender terms.  The Russians had enough of being beaten by the French.

Thereafter they pursued the Fabian strategy.  They kept their army intact but at a safe distance from Napoleon.  They shadowed his moves but refused to engage.  Napoleon arrived in Moscow to find a city deserted and emptied of supplies.  As winter approached he realised that he was unable to sustain his army due to the length of the supply lines.

The Grand Armée then began the long and ignominious retreat.  All the way they were shadowed by the Russian Army, meaning they could not disperse the troops to live off the land.  Foraging parties soon learned how well suited the lightly mounted Cossaks were to skirmishing duties.  The French were forced to keep in column and march west.  Then the weather turned, the snow fell and the Grand Armée was no more.

The Death of a Soldier; by Wallace Stevens

Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.

He does not become a three-days personage,
Imposing his separation,
Calling for pomp.

Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,

When the wind stops and, over the heavens,
The clouds go, nevertheless,
In their direction.

Rosetta Stone

The most visited object in the British Museum

The most visited object in the British Museum

It was on this day in the year 1799 that Pierre-Francois Bouchard discovered the Rosetta Stone.  Bouchard was a new man, made up by the French revolution.  Blinded in one eye during a chemistry experiment he went on to become a military engineer.  He joined the expedition to Egypt with Napoleon.

In 1799 he was given the job of repairing an old Mameluke fort in the port town of Rosetta (modern Rashid).  During construction he noticed the inscribed stone, which had been used to build the walls of the fort.  An intelligent man, Bouchard immediately recognised the importance of the find.  A single stone bearing the same inscription in three scripts, Greek, Demotic and Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

Plaster casts of the stone were taken and dispatched to linguistic scholars for translation.

The stone itself fell into British hands in 1801 when they drove the French out of Egypt.  It was moved to London and has been on display almost continuously since 1802.

Translation of the text took somewhat longer.

The Greek text was translated by 1803.

It was not until 1822 that Jean Francois Champollion released a translation of the Egyptian elements of the text.  Even then it took many years of work before scholars could confidently translate other ancient Egyptian texts.

Egypt and France both claim rights to the stone, which is  still held in the British Museum.

The Rosetta stone had impacts beyond the translation of Egyptian texts.  The lessons learned in Egypt have helped to unlock other pictographic alphabets such as Mayan.

The term “Rosetta Stone” is now often used to signify a key to unlocking an understanding of a field of knowledge.

And death shall have no dominion; by Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Armegeddon

Thutmoses

Har Megiddo or Tel Megiddo are names for the Megiddo city mound.  Har Megiddo gave us the word Armageddon, the supposed site of the end of world battle from the book of Revelations in the Bible.

A Tell or Tel, is the usual name for the structure.  What looks like a natural hill is in fact the remains of human occupation.  A town is built on the plain using mud brick.  Over time the bricks crumble and new houses are built on top of the old ones.  After centuries of occupation the town rises above the plain.

Megiddo was the site of the first reliably recorded battle in history on this day in 1457 BCE.  The Egyptians, led by Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated the Canaanite army led by the King of Kadesh.

It is the first battle to record a casualty list.  The first recorded use of the compound bow.  And the first recorded battle in the area that has recorded the greatest density of battles of any place in the world.

The land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and from Antioch in the North to the Sinai and Aqaba in the South.  This narrow corridor is the primary highway for land movements between Africa, Europe and Asia.  Anyone controlling this land can benefit from imports, exports and innovations of three continents.  They can strategically control access from continent to continent.

Amenhotep fought campaigns here.  The Israelites fought the Canaanites.  Ramses the Great fought the Hittites here in the huge chariot battle of Kadesh.  The Egyptians sacked Jerusalem in the reigns of Pharaoh Sheshonk and King Rehoboam.  Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem.  Alexander the Great besieged Tyre.  The Seleucids fought an elephant and phalanx battle against the Ptolomies at Raphia in the modern Gaza strip.  The Maccabees fought the Seleucids.

The Romans fought there, including emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Vespasian and Titus.  The Arabs drove out the Byzantines.  The Crusaders drove out the Arabs.  The Mamelukes drove out the Crusaders.  Napoleon fought the Mamelukes here.  Then the Turks drove out the Mamelukes.  The British drove out the Turks in World War 1.  They fought the Vichy French in World War 2.  The Israelis then drove out the British.  The Egyptians, the Syrians, the Jordanians, the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Iraqis and the Lebanese have all tried to drive out the Israelis.  They fought the war of 1948.  Then the British and the French invaded Suez.  This was followed by the six day war, the Yom Kippur war, the South Lebanon war, the Intifada, the second Intifada.

If you Google the name of a town in this area of the world with the words “Battle of” in front of it, Google will ask “Which Battle?”

The battles I have mentioned here are only the really famous ones.  There are many, many more.  Armageddon indeed!

Leadership material

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Leader or manager, general or colonel? What is the difference and why does it matter? In war or in competitive business we face a twin dilemma.

Let’s focus on wars, simply because they have a better documented history. Throughout history the (seemingly) simple act of getting your army to a battlefield, wearing clothes, in a state of health, well fed, well shod, well-armed and well-ordered has often delivered victory. This is the job of the staff officers of the army, the managers. They must recruit, train, equip, feed, transport and manage the soldiers.

In the same way company managers must recruit, remunerate, monitor and direct the staff or the organisation to deliver a workload. They must ensure the correct tools are available to do the job, the right computers, the right lathes, the right cleaning fluids etc.

Where things get interesting is where you have two armies, or two organisations, that are well managed, so that both of them arrive on the ‘battlefield’ in good order.

This is where the need for good leadership cuts in. The good leader is creative, surprising, unexpected, not a plodder, not predictable and pedantic. The Duke of Wellington defeated every French Marshal thrown against him. At last he met Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, and Wellesley described him as “just another plodder”. What he did not realise is that Napoleon was ill and the battle was mismanaged by Marshal Ney. Napoleon was in fact a brilliant general, and on his day Waterloo would have been a very different battle.

If a “leader” becomes too operational, too involved in the day to day running of the business, then they are probably just interfering in the work of their managers. The leader needs to be assured that the management is happening, but should not be too involved in it. The leader needs to be aware of the capabilities of the organisation, so that when they craft their strategic masterstroke it is within the reach of the staff. So reports from managers to the leader should keep the leader up to date on what is possible.

The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion is attributed to a reporting failure within the CIA. Local operatives were telling Langley that the Cuban exiles were motivated and committed soldiers, well trained and gunning to win their country back from the Communists. In fact they were a drunken, feckless rabble who were unfit to participate in any military action. Had Kennedy been aware of this he could have avoided a huge embarrassment for the USA, and potentially have avoided the Cuban Missile Crisis altogether.

The leader can challenge the managers to build capabilities in weak areas, tell them “what” he wants, but should refrain from telling them how to do it. Good examples are of Churchill in the Second World War. He challenged the army to develop special forces groups so that he could take the war to the Axis. The army developed commando units, paratroopers, long range desert squadrons, SAS etc. These specialist “tools” were then available to factor in to strategic plans. The Rhine bridges campaign (Operation Market Garden) depended heavily on paratroopers holding the bridge and Arnhem. They did the job for three days longer than they were asked, and the failure of the campaign was down to other factors.

In a business context, what are your special forces? What are the tools in the market that can give you a strategic advantage over your competition? Where is your source of competitive advantage and how are you factoring this into your strategic planning?

Some writers point to a personality difference between a leader and a manger. Many great leaders are very uncomfortable in management positions. They play a poor second fiddle to another leader.

Dr. Brian Leavy in DCU humorously used Star Trek to describe the difference in one of his strategy papers. Captain Kirk is the brilliant leader of the Starship Enterprise. He is a flawed human, at times emotional and petty, jealous of others, physically violent when things don’t go his way, he comes across like a spoilt child. But he constantly thinks outside the box and finds solutions where none seemed to exist. When he was faced with a no-win game scenario at Starfleet academy he refused to be beaten and instead reprogrammed the game so that he could win. He is a motivational leader who inspires great effort and loyalty from his team. His passion and drive are attractive to the opposite sex too, as he always seems to get the girl (or the prettiest alien species).

By contrast Mr Spock is a paragon of self-control and emotional discipline. He is logical, correct and brilliant. He is the perfect foil for the mercurial leader, as he keeps everything on an even keel. But he is cold and passionless and does not inspire those around him. If anything his perfection is demotivating to others who know they can never gain his approval. For Spock perfection is simply adequate, anything less is unacceptable. This makes him a poor leader in the eyes of humans.

The analogy often seems to hold true. Famous leaders do appear to be mercurial characters, Lord Alan Sugar, Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Churchill, Bill Gates, Howard Hughes, Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael O’Leary. But how much of this is the visibility of leaders who are mercurial? There are many great leaders who shy away from public attention. Terry Leahy, Paul Polman, Robert McDonald, Rex Tillerson, Peter Voser, Peter Swinbburn, all very influential people, how many can you place?

IF: by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!