“To tell you the truth, the thing that made me gain so many battles was that the evening before a fight, instead of giving orders to extend our lines, I tried to converge all our forces on the point I wanted to attack. I massed them there” Napoleon Bonaparte
Numbers (size) doesn’t matter. If you can focus your entire “attack” at one place, at the right time, with the right focus, you can beat anyone or anything.
We have more tools, power, and resources than at any other time in history. Yet we are more confused and scattered than ever before. We lack focus and direction and think the wider our net, the better. Oh, boy, so wrong.
You won’t triumph with more tools, resources, and power. You will triumph when you master timing, focus, and simplicity. The greatest leaders and thinkers of all time were considered demi-gods not because of their complex systems, but because of their ability to use the simplicity card when everything and everyone told them otherwise.
This essay will show you how being simple and precise in the heat of the moment is the masterful skill you need. You’ll learn from history’s greatest leaders and thinkers. You’ll see it from a different perspective, but one that’s always been there. We haven’t seen it because we’ve been fooled. Complexity is the tool of the fool, and we’ve been led by fools for too long. Think about it, how many meetings or ideas have you discussed only for someone to say, “No, that’s too simple!.” That’s how most organisations and leaders think today.
Napoleon’s strategic genius was his ability to bring together, in the perfect moment, his power, focus, timing, and simplicity.
His “corps system” became the standard unit adopted by every European army by 1812, and which lasted until 1945. It was his unique contribution to the art of war, and its first use in 1805 can be regarded as heralding the birth of modern warfare.
The corps system ensured none of Napoleon’s units was more than a 24 hours march apart, this meant at any given moment he could shift his attack and convene all his forces into 1 within less than 24 hours (unheard of in those days).
This system of flexibility, timing, speed, and focus is the exact opposite of how big corporations run today.
Our businesses should be run with a corps like system. They refer to this as pivoting and utilising the premise of the “lean startup” principles in silicon valley. Always improving based on feedback. But improvements come using simplicity. Creating a monster app without testing out the simple features leads to a disaster.
Good strategy almost always looks this simple and obvious and does not take a thick deck of PowerPoint slides to explain.
We always look back and think, “ah, obvious!” But having that thought in the moment is a masterful skill. It’s true genius.
“Things designed by people without skin in the game tend to grow in complication” Nassim Taleb.
The less you know, the more complicated your approach will be.
Look at Picasso’s art, so simple yet so complex. He would paint out his idea in great detail and then cut it down to its most essential and simple elements. Genius.
I founded a health and fitness company that has helped over 50,000 women lose weight.
I’ve developed a simple system, so easy to follow that I always get women saying, “How have I NOT known about this!? How is it so easy!?”
I’ll tell you why. Charlatans sell you on a complex system. The more complex the “better”. No clue, no focus, no simplicity.
To people, the simplicity is often baffling or mind-blowing. “No way is it that easy!”
It is that simple. When it comes to weight loss, you have to be in a calorie deficit, it’s that simple.
But I refined the system further. Macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) contain calories, so the system is about tracking your macros using a simple app like MyFitnessPal.
We set their calories at a 500 calorie deficit, we split the calories into 3 simple macro numbers (so they get enough protein, fat, and carbs, which is vital for many reasons).
All they got to do?
Play the game. Hit those 3 numbers and check-in each week. They can eat whatever foods they want, nothing is off-limits. However, we do promote eating nutritious foods.
Like magic, they lose fat and feel strong. Most women don’t eat enough carbs or protein. When women eat a moderate carb diet with more protein, the “magic” happens. They retain less water, feel less hungry (due to the protein) and have the energy to train hard (from the carbs).
While we could complicate it and tell them all about this, we just give them the 3 numbers. It’s simple, it’s focused, it works.
Below is how we represent it to members (Live Like Louise is the name of the company)
“As much as you think you’re marketing, people are too busy! They are paying less attention than you think.”
To “break-through” the mass market, we need to focus our attention on a singular area. To blitz through, we need a focused attack with enough force, clarity, and power.
The Nazi’s did this masterfully with the Ardennes offensive. The enemy thought there would be no way an army could get through the Ardennes. What did Hitler do? Put everything he’s got through there. It was quick, simple, and focused with devastating results for the allies.
How can you focus your offense? The simple attack is the least expected option. But it’s often the best.
When I started my rugby clothing brand, I’d always have my mates who didn’t like rugby telling me to “open the brand up to more than rugby.” They wanted me to drop the “rugby” part of the name and appeal to the athleisure mass market. This would have killed the company.
I focused my attack on rugby on purpose. It was weak. No brand created athleisure clothing for the younger generation of players—a simple, focused move, yet hardly radical.
I always hear whispers from friends of friends about how “easy” and “obvious” it was to go down the route I went. Yeah, sure, it was! That’s why it was successful.
‘The fate of a battle is the result of a single instant – a thought,‘
Napoleon was later to say about Marengo.
‘The decisive moment comes, a moral spark is lit, and the smallest reserve accomplishes victory.’
It’s important to know that you can beat the odds, even with far smaller numbers. However, the element of timing is even more critical. Timing is everything. If you can master this, you are the master of your results.
Lululemon grew because they developed female yoga pants at the right place, at the right time.
Gymshark, another athleisure brand that’s stormed the industry, has been mega-successful by using YouTubers as influencers before anyone else. It was a combination of the right product, using the correct force (influencer marketing) at the right time (early days).
Napoleon, when protecting Paris in 1814, only had 30,000 men left after his disaster in Russia. He was against nearly 1 million allied troops. However, he was able to win 4 battles on the bounce. How? He timed his attacks at the massive army at their weakest point. Doing so, he was able to break through and win battles.
General Wellington (English) later said that these battles showed him the pure genius of Napoleon.
Napoleon, against 25 to 1 odds, was able to win using superb timing.
Only when he fell ill did he lose.
Student: “10 are stronger than 1”
Epictetus: “Yes, for what though?”
Epictetus: “Numbers are irrelevant. Put them to the balance, the person with correct ideas will outweigh all the others.”
Epictetus, one of the wisest stoics of his time, knew that “power” didn’t lie in numbers.
People often confuse power with numbers.
Arnold Bennett would also say, “You will accomplish as much in 1 morning hour as in 2 evening hours.”
The timing matters. Doing creative work in the morning results in a 2x return, maybe more vs. the evening.
If you do not realise the power in timing and focus, you’ll be limited.
Having the first court hearing after lunch break results in fewer charges than ones just before lunch. Why? People are hungry! Maybe irritated too. Timing matters. Sometimes it’s not in your control, but when it is, make it count.
I’ll finish with this beautiful quote from Victor Hugo
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”
Has your time come?