About 2600 years earlier, another great mind: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” - Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, 6th century BC.
And the poet Rudyard Kipling warned: “Keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs ”
So what’s the “main thing”?
Amidst all those noisy “C” words - the conflict, contest, complication, complexity, confusion: My preferred “C” is “Culture”.
Nilofer Merchant, in the Harvard Business Review in 2011: “A healthy culture allows us to produce something with each other, not in spite of each other” - something bigger than the sum of the individuals.
“After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy every time. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions, it will fail.
“Conversely, a culturally robust team can turn a so-so strategy into a winner.”
Francis Fukuyama, in The Origins of Political Power, describes ingredients for a successful society: “A strong and capable state, the state’s subordination to the rule of law and government accountability to all citizens.”
And he places culture at the centre of how historical change happens.
Let’s apply all that to a real place, a small suburb in Cape Town: the state wasn’t capable, it didn’t uphold the rule of law and wasn’t accountable to citizens.
So what would the catalyst be for change? A carefully enabled space for a new culture to emerge. A facilitated series of ordinary, human conversations that mattered.
Baby steps, building a culture of learning each other’s roles and responsibilities. Understanding more, attacking less.
Holding each other to account constructively, encouraging reflection and improvement - not hiding from blame.
A culture which built unity of purpose, a common goal: safeness.
The right people in the room didn’t have to agree on everything. Or even like each other. But their shared culture was healthy enough to deliver, super-accurately: a framework of incentives and accountability for a team of players to hold themselves legitimately to account.
Once the “people” were on the same page, they’d begin the process of making all 100 moving parts work, together.
Aided by 21st-century hi-tech enabling systems. Completing “The Golden Triangle”, for holistic business intelligence: People, Process, Technology.
Delivering a capable system for “civilisation” to thrive. Not degenerate into the Dark Age.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Peter Drucker.
So “the main thing” is? A culture which strengthens the team. Every team.
It’s time for change.
* Murray Williams’ “Shooting from the Lip” column appears in the Cape Argus every Monday.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.