Spartan Maneuvers

Whether it’s closing a customer, captivating a lover, cleaning an overflowing email inbox, or killing 10,000 of Xerxes’ Immortals, the Spartan’s approach to winning is based on focus and control of two essential factors:

  1. skill of execution, and
  2. strategic use of the landscape.

The first is celebrated and easily remembered; the second is often forgotten and makes all the difference.

PART ONE —  SKILL:  “He who knows how to speak, knows also when.” -Archidamidas

The idea of being a Spartan (whether as salesperson, seducer, information worker or well-oiled Greek soldier) and operating in a disciplined “bare-bones” manner has an enduring appeal, despite all the historical evils and misdeeds of the ancient Spartiatites.

Spartans are specialists who work with a minimum of complexity and a minimum of fluff.  Spartans use just a few well-chosen weapons and pieces of armor (metaphorically or literally) and speak with an economy of words. Certain business/interpersonal communication styles (e.g. the classic “Direct” or “Driver” style) have a powerful precedent in the Spartans’ historically celebrated laconic manner of speech.  According to the Greek historian Plutarch, a lecturer once said, “Speech is the most important thing of all,” to which Agis II (King of Sparta, 427‑401 B.C.) retorted, “Then if you are silent, you are of no worth at all!”   Agis was all about getting to the point:  He said that Spartans did not ask ‘how many are the enemy,’ but ‘where are they.’

PART TWO —  LANDSCAPE:  “Good, then we’ll have our battle in the shade.” -Dienekes

What makes the Spartan approach work is not just disciplined skill in battle (or communication) but also the strategic use of landscape. Given the right type of landscape, 300 well-trained Spartans can hold off an army of 250,000… as long as they maintain the right positioning on that landscape. As a warrior/communicator, if you’re going to be simple and direct, then you have to choose your platform carefully.

Direct communicators (aka “Drivers”) hate email, text messages and voicemail because these forms of detached communication puts them at a tactical disadvantage. The strength of a Driver becomes a weakness in email communication. Just like the Spartan who avoids a wide-open battlefield with multiple “incomings,” the Spartan/Driver communicator prefers short-range, face-to-face interactions… none of those arrows shot from far away.

Of course, sometimes Spartans can use the text-message medium effectively, as illustrated by this historical example involving Philip II of Macedon:

Text Message from Philip II of Macedon:  You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city. If I win this war, you will be slaves forever.

Text Reply from Sparta:   If

Philip and his allies decided to avoid Sparta.

Another strength of Spartan communicators with respect to email:   They know how to clear an inbox full of emails that might otherwise clutter their mental space and reduce productivity. A Spartan responds to emails with a simple “yes,” “no,” or “ok.”   They smash their way through an storm of inbound requests and distractions much like these guys did in the movie 300.  Click… click… click… don’t look back… just keep pressing [Delete] or [Archive] and keeping moving forward.

Above all else, when it comes to the decisive moment of using their prowess to “go for the kill” or  “ask for the order,”  Spartans know they need to consummate it in person, not by txt msg.

IN SUMMARY: Keep it Simple, but Stay Smart

Spartans are specialists who depend on not just on their skill, but also strategy — they must operate in a landscape that is conducive to their simple, direct approach.

Spartans who lose their strategic advantage will fail, no matter how strong they are.  At the Battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans were outflanked by the Persians.  At the Battle of Leuctra, the Thebans broke the Spartan phalanx with an eschelon formation. Both cases involved a surprise move by the opponent, upending the Spartan’s strategy. The Spartan approach is about simplicity, focus and specialization, and a changing landscape (or changing rules) is the enemy of specialization.  To overcome change, you need to do more than just let loose your team’s battalion of 300 direct Drivers… you need to direct (and re-direct) their drive.

Yes, it is possible to keep it simple, without being stupid.

About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on July 27, 2010, in Communication Skills, Metaphors, Productivity, Sales and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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