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4 Business Lessons from Napoleon

Let me start by wishing you a very Happy New Year and all the best for 2020.

At the beginning of a New Year, I like to think about the year ahead and make some plans for my business.

I recently came across an article on lessons we can learn from Napoleon about goal setting and how we can apply them within our business.

Napoleon Bonaparte was an intelligent and ambitious leader who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th Century. Even today, he is still regarded as one of the world’s greatest military strategists.

He was also highly quotable, and it’s four of these quotes I want to share as lessons we can take away and apply in our own businesses today.

Quote 1: “Victory belongs to the most persevering”

When the difficult times come and we face adversity, which in business we surely will, perseverance becomes arguably the most important thing we can do. The ability to keep on going is vital.

Thomas Edison went through a lengthy period of failure before he eventually created the electric light bulb. Indeed, it was Edison who said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration”.

Failure, difficult times, adversity all need to be overcome if we are to succeed in business. And perseverance is the key.

Quote 2: “Imagination rules the world”

When someone says ‘imagination’ it can sound a bit ‘woo-woo’. But imagination is simply having an image in your mind, of for instance, what you want to achieve in your business in the next month, the next year, the next ten years. And then going for it.

Elite athletes do it all the time. They place a tremendous importance on visualisation and on imagining success. They then back it up with the work necessary to succeed.

Or take Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They imagined a world where all the knowledge and information was collated, ordered and then made available in a split second at the push of a button. People thought they were crazy. Undeterred, Page and Brin called their fledgling business Google!

So, imagine or visualise what you want your business to be, to do, to look like. And then get to work. Imagination needs to be backed up with hard work.

But it often starts with imagination.

Quote 3: “The torment of precaution often exceeds the dangers to be avoided”

Avoiding a situation or task may feel like a sensible action to take at a particular point in time but can actually be the most risky or damaging decision you can make.

The problem, according to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, is that our brains have developed to be risk-averse which leaves us nearly twice as sensitive to potential failures as successes.

In other words, as humans we are programmed to play it safe. This is because our over-caution comes from a fear which is wired into our brains and acts as a protective mechanism for dealing with danger.

Essentially, Napoleon is saying, it’s usually better to take action of some kind rather than take no action at all. Of course, it’s important to make the point that his is not about ‘throwing caution to the wind’, but rather about not being paralysed by self-doubt or fear of failure.

Nike perhaps said it best. ‘Just do it’

Quote 4: “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools”

Success in any walk of life often comes as a result of overcoming seemingly impossible odds.

Usually a situation only seems impossible because a solution hasn’t yet been found.

A great example is US President, John F. Kennedy. He stood before Congress in May 1961 and proposed that the USA “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth”.

It seemed an impossible goal. It was only a month earlier in April 1961 that the first man went into space. So, in 1961, there was simply not the know-how nor the technology available to land a man on the moon. A seemingly impossible task.

And although Kennedy never lived to see it, sure enough on 20th July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon.

The impossible had become the possible!

In summary, Napoleon was far from perfect, and he made some bad decisions which had catastrophic results, not least his infamous invasion of Russia.

But he was also a brilliant leader and strategist, and the wisdom contained within these four quotes can be used by us both in life and in business in 2020 and beyond.

So, all the best for 2020 – I hope it’s your best year ever!