King Gustav and the Importance of the Winter Initiative
 The large trading centers of the Baltic are typically protected by water, but sometimes, at the most inopportune times, this water freezes over…

The large trading centers of the Baltic are typically protected by water, but sometimes, at the most inopportune times, this water freezes over…

Typically wars are fought in Spring & Summer, but history also has quite a few examples of generals using the winter as a perfect cover for a surprise attack. Hannibal was not expected to arrive in Italy across the Alps in the dead of Winter catching the Romans by surprise in the Spring. Likewise, William the Conqueror landed in September 1066 and was crowned King of England in London by December. Certainly Winter campaigns can be successful – and much of it hangs on careful planning. Now, my personal enemies are spreadsheets, deadlines, taxes, and one incredibly finicky laptop, but let’s see if I can learn a thing or two from history this winter to slay these foes, too.

At the height of the Second Northern War of 1656-60, King Charles X Gustav was bogged down in Northern Europe against Sweden’s powerful Eastern neighbors: Germans, Poles, Russians and their allies. The campaign had been reduced to a guerilla war of attrition. It was slowly depleting the morale of his men and his leadership was in doubt. Then there was more bad news from the West. Seeing a chance to cast off the yoke of their powerful neighbor, the Danes took this opportunity to also declare open war on Sweden and join the alliance against Gustav.

What seemed like a further setback for the Swedes, one that could have meant utter disaster, this new front was welcomed by Gustav, surprising even some of his own generals. The reality was that Gustav needed a pretext to extricate himself out of Poland without appearing to retreat. Being an experienced military man himself, when a war on multiple fronts presents itself, the best course of action is to tackle each enemy one at a time, to get out of the middle, so to speak.

This new threat from the West was the pretext he needed not just as an example to his enemies, but also to his own army and citizens back home. He immediately marched his army North West and arrived in the heart of Denmark by late Summer 1657. It was so sudden, the Danes could hardly muster an effective resistance and the allies were now too far away to offer any assistance. The only caveat was that the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen, was on an island, winter was around the corner and the Swedish army, albeit seasoned veterans, were significantly depleted from the previous year’s campaigns. More crucially, the Danes had a fresh, larger, and well-trained navy.

The Danish leadership felt secure enough on their remote island that they decided to rest for the winter, leaving the Swedish army to languish on the mainland in the cold. Gustav was not one to settle or retreat, but he had a problem on his hands. As the winter grew colder, snow began to fall, ice started to form on streams and lakes, and his army grew wary. The ice was also staring to strand his army because his ships would not be able to bring them home. He was now stranded, weakened, hungry and cold.

When the cold, snow and ice became severe, he happened on an idea, something that had not been possible for many years. He sent his engineers out to see if the ice would support his army to allow them to cross the sea. Indeed, in the dead of winter, he marched a small, efficient, and highly disciplined force of 9000 infantry and 3000 horse across the ice. After two such crossings his army reached the gates of Copenhagen. Catching the Danes completely by surprise they quickly capitulated, signed a hugely disadvantageous treaty granting Sweden significant relief, and left the alliance.

The expedition was so quick, decisive and daring that it became the highlight of the war, and showed that Gustav was indeed a significant leader of Europe and that the Swedish army was not one to be trifled with. It also had a significant impact on the remainder of the war in the East.

There are some important lessons here, even for me against my enemies: spreadsheets, deadlines and taxes:

  1. When faced with a seemingly impossible situation where multiple things go wrong, pick the most recent one and tackle that one first. It shows initiative and perseverance not just to adversaries, but also to those closest to you and also yourself.

  2. Don’t hesitate to start on a path even if you don’t know where it will end. Oftentimes it is more important to make a move, than to stay stuck.

  3. You never know what the future may bring. Be prepared to harness any new opportunity that may arise.

  4. Adversity can bring opportunity. Furthermore, each adversity one overcomes becomes proof of capable leadership – the benefits multiply.

  5. Never stop working to find solutions. When working on building a business, there are many lulls and stagnant periods when nothing seems to move forward. Those are the times to be most active in looking for solutions and being open to new ideas.

  6. When others rest, celebrate, or retreat, this is the best time to get to work: it is quieter, work becomes more focused, and new opportunities become apparent. Don’t make a New Year’s resolution, start on the resolution now, before the end of the year.

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Studying history is a passion for me. To prepare for this article, I read several completely unrelated histories, from a Biography of Christina, a fascinating predecessor who converted to Catholicism at a time when this was unthinkable for a Swedish queen to do so, to a long description of Sweden’s many trade routes and diplomatic missions throughout Europe, the Middle East and farther.

As it turns out Winter is also a great time to get lost in studying a topic that fascinates you. As with the lessons above, you never know what you will stumble across. For example, I found out that the Swedes established a significant colony in North America called New Sweden along the Delaware river. I am now motivated to find out more about what happened to this colony and it may become a feature in a future article. The point is that we should never stop learning, even in the dead of Winter. Sure, it’s great to spend time with loved ones and enjoy a trip far away occasionally. Yet even then, we should never stop learning from others and the things around us.

I truly believe there is much we can learn about running a business by studying history, but there is just as much to learn about this from talking with friends and family. Just about every person you talk to has “an idea” for a business, and a few have even started one. So pour your great-uncle another eggnog and get him to tell you some of his stories. You may be surprised what you will learn.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

Colegas Group2018
Proteus, Amantine Dupin and the Importance of Changing One’s Image
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Here’s a fun word for the day: Protean – def. having the ability to change one’s appearance; to be versatile, mutable and adaptable. The word comes from the Greek god Proteus who could change his appearance from a snake to a tree to water. He used this ability so that he could not be pinned down, figuratively and literally.

People are often told to change their image as well. They are told to update the way they dress, the way they present, or to refresh their social media profiles. Yet, most people just assume this is to remain fresh and up to date and they don’t consider another very important personal reason to do so: to show that they have control over how people see them. Changing one’s appearance shows that people can define how they are seen on their own terms, and not to let others, norms, conventions, or policies decide this for them. One historical figure who took this to heart was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin.

Amantine grew up in rural France in the early 19th century. Despite being born after the French Revolution, her father’s aristocratic background afforded her considerable liberties in a society that was not particularly egalitarian. Amantine wanted to become a writer. Shortly after marrying, she moved to Paris to find a publisher, but she was told in no uncertain terms: “Madame, why don’t you make babies instead of literature.” Not one to be daunted, she co-authored the novel with her husband under a pseudonym. As it turned out, this actually worked out well, and even though she became estranged from him, she decided to continue using a male nom-de-plume from then on. Her first novel Indiana published in 1832 was published under the name of George Sand. Because all of Paris assumed it was written by a man, it was much more readily accepted and it turned out to be quite a success.

As a result of this success, however, her identity was quickly discovered, but rather than allow society to label her a fraud and to cower back into obscurity, she decided to continue the Protean experiment. She began to change her dress and appearance to be more like that of men. She was henceforth going to wear pants, smoke cigars, and drink like men. Rather than let others dictate who she should be, she was going to define this for herself. In this way she joined the world of Paris artistes and intellectuals which included the likes of Victor Hugo, Eugène Delacroix, Emile Zola and Gustave Flaubert.

However, there would be a new risk with her decision to dress and act like a man: she was at risk of being labeled a lesbian – having now fully divorced her husband, this was sure to be used against her. While being openly lesbian was not completely unknown in mid-19th century Parisian society, it would allow her critics to once again define her as aberrant and thus dismiss her literary talents. To circumvent this, she started a number of well-publicized affairs with prominent (male) social figures and artists, including the famous pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Once again, she refused to be pigeon-holed and continued to control who and what she would be known for.

After the French were disastrously defeated in the Franco-Prussian War, the people of Paris revolted against the newly-formed government and formed a separate communal government in the capital, events that would profoundly influence the writings of Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Having been a supporter of the middle and lower classes, George Sand was sympathetic to their cause, and initially supported the Communards. However, once she saw the arbitrary violence of this fledgling resistance, she uncharacteristically changed sides and threw her support behind the government. This placed her at odds with many in Paris, including fellow artists and intellectuals. Again, she was not about to be defined by others; she again redefined herself so that she remained in control of who she was going to be. She was not just an artist, she was more than that, and she wanted everyone to know this.

George Sand’s conscious decision to repeatedly change how people perceived her, allowed her to control how she would be defined. It served as a poignant demonstration of the power that she exercised not just over her image, but also over the institutions of power of the time. This power structure was dominated by men, who consequently were also typically wealthy, white, and considered themselves intellectually superior. Through her Protean ways, George Sand transcended those societal structures.

This example can also apply to the modern internet-connected world. A good manager knows that with each promotion, job change, or new position, comes a necessary revision of her/his image, whether it is a new office, new suits, or even a new car to drive in to work with. Similarly, each time that we update our Linked In profile with a new achievement or career advancement, a corresponding update in one’s picture is warranted. Likewise, Gigster and entrepreneurs should regularly update their appearance each time the business grows or a new large contract is signed.

The same rule applies even when the change is not exactly positive, for example, after a demotion, a contract is lost or even dismissal. This still calls for a change in image. George Sand did not let overt sexist rejections, accusations of lesbianism, challenges to her intellect, or even socio-political status define her. Each time she was confronted with apparent adversity, she used her power to change her appearance, her behavior, and her associations to redefine herself. Good managers, leaders, and Gigsters will use their power to change their appearance to do the same.

Now it may seem counter-productive to do this as it would seem to flaunt success and power, but changing one’s image is seldom seen in a negative light. The fact is that customers, clients, and colleagues will admire the courage to upgrade one’s image. This is because deep down they also seek the same freedom in their lives. Being associated with someone who exhudes this is an affirmation of their sense of belonging, their own freedom and their own power. The Parisian intellectuals and artists of the 19th century wanted to be associated with George Sand because it brought them greater status as well. She fully understood this, used it, and increased in standing as both an artist and a socio-political  figure. Her associations with the great people of the time allowed her to grow in status accordingly.

So how do we apply this in our own, admittedly smaller, more intimate circles? Well the most obvious way is to regularly update one’s photo on social media platforms, websites, online resumés, and avatars. Then one should consider regularly updating one’s style of dress. You never know who you will meet when you step out the door, so dress better than the day before. When there is a change in the office, whether it is positive or less so, make a change – even if it is something as simple as re-arranging the furniture or hanging up new artwork on the wall.

Every change brings opportunity for a new perspective, but it also demonstrates to others that we have the power to dictate how we are defined. It shows resiliency, adaptability and inner strength, which is both liberating and empowering, traits others will admire and want to be associated with. Understanding this dynamic, but more importantly, using this knowledge and building on it, is what separates a Gigster from a Collegiate Gigster.

In short, be Protean and proclaim it loudly. Not only will others admire your courage and your ability to change, but they will also be impressed that you have a new vocabulary word to toss about, too!

…Yes, expanding your vocabulary is also a change that demonstrates these positive attributes.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

Colegas Group2018
Darwin’s Theory Adjusted – History Occurs in Fits and Bursts and so Should Your Success
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In 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, presenting a new theory of evolution suggesting that “the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution” over thousands of years.

As can be surmised, religious institutions were vehemently opposed to the idea that advanced species evolved from lesser ones. After all, it contradicted the whole idea that our world was created in seven days by God. It also suggested an organic commonality with lesser species that undermined the idea that man was at the apex of that order, as ordained by God. Most preposterously, it suggested that the whole process could have occurred without the hand of God being involved. This was blasphemy!

After Darwin, there was a long period of debate over the validity of the work. Even the scientific community joined the debate because another side-effect of the idea that God was not involved was an undermining of the social order of the time. If God was not involved in the process of evolution, then he could also not be involved in the current state of the world with the White Anglo-Saxon man at the apex of it. Abolitionists would soon have additional fodder to challenge the entire Western mercantillist system of trade.

As a result, the theory of evolution that Darwin had proposed stalled a bit. The theory, when first introduced had been revolutionary, a watershed moment for the entire community of paleontologists, naturalists, biologists and historians whose work was inseparably touched by the new findings. It would now have to take time for the theory to gain wider acceptance, time for people to come to terms with it, a necessary shaking out of sorts for all the pieces to fall into place.

Unfortunately, not all the pieces did.

Over time, the theory started to develop holes, huges ones, in the fossil record. Despite a renewed zeal to dig up fossils all around the world after Darwin’s book, there were huge periods of prehistoric time where no gradual evolutionary progression occurred. Faithful scientists who supported Darwin’s theory hypothesized that those fossils simply had not yet been discovered. Yet even this idea became more and more tenuous as so few fossils were discovered that supported the theory. Could Darwin’s theory have been inaccurate? Could these holes be evidence of God’s work?

Not until over a century later, in 1972, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Gould suggested that evolutionary change occurs in fits and bursts, and that between these fits and bursts there is a long period of stasis where little change occurs. This would then account for the lack of fossil evidence of change. They published a revolutionary paper on this called Punctuated Equilibria.

This work, and the research that followed presented a revolutionary new theory, one that brought entirely new life to Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Once again, this was followed by a long period of discussion, debate, and settling in for the scientific community.

While Eldridge and Gould’s theory is considerably complex and my telling of it here is very much over-simplified, it is still the prevailing theory of how evolutionary change occurs. As such we could say we are in a period of stasis in the story of evolution. What I’ve done is used their theory as an illustration of how theories can also develop over time. Just as evolution occurred in fits and bursts, so too can a theory.

What I would contend is that more often than not, change all around us is in fits and bursts. I believe that there are many examples in history for this as well. Likewise this is also how change occurs in business and how it will likely occur in your own business, entrepreneurship or side-Gig.

This is how multi-millionaire Gary Vaynerchuk’s business grew. Few people know that he started selling flowers on weekends, a small home-business that he grew to several stands. Then he came across something more profitable, baseball cards, and his income grew to thousands a week. Then his father made him work in the family ice-cream business and things slowed down again. After some time learning from his work there he started strategizing about how he could replicate the success he had with baseball cards. Then he set up a wine club website online and profits reached a new plateau. Once he established the site and created a good following he started to research SEO and other online marketing strategies, bringing another rise in income level. Then he branched off in new directions and reached even higher plateaus. Throughout it all, change occurred in bursts, but he was prepared to capitalize on every one.

The story of Jesse Cole is another example of this process. Having sunk both his and his new wife’s entire life savings into purchasing a baseball franchise, sleeping on an air-mattress in a roach-infested one-room apartment the path to becoming a multi-millionaire has been through fits and bursts. Reading about his challenges shows how the expectation of sudden changes and then acting on them, is what creates forward momentum. The Jesse, the periods of stasis in between are a necessary processes in the overall trajectory because they provide time to learn, to settle in and prepare for the next new burst.

Reading the stories other successful entrepreneurs is not very different, even ones who have not yet reached household name status like Gary and Jesse. Personal finance blogger Michele Gardner certainly started a blog with a simple goal to pay off her student loan. Linked In Personality Shay Rowbottom, COO of Margle Media shares her ups & downs online regularly, but her positive outlook is rooted in the idea that her success is not linear. YouTube sensation Marques Brownlee has seen his success grow in bursts and then recede at various times, only to be raised again with the next groundbreaking review or teak to his SEO strategy. Public speaker and cancer research advocate Jess Ekstrom is now a sought after speaker with TED experience under her belt, but her success was not linear either. The fact is, success most often occurs in bursts. Understanding this is a large part of what made these entrepreneurs so successful.

Yes, there are professional and business progressions that are slow and linear, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Change in bursts is how evolution likely occurred, it is how theories gain wide acceptance, and it will likely be how your business will grow over time. Actually, it may be the single most important factor in moving the process forward. Even if you are currently in a slow period, a stasis, you should always be prepared for the next burst so that you can act on it when it appears..

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

Colegas Group2018
Banksy, Fushimiya and the Value of a Teacup
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As I’m sure most people have read that this past weekend, a print called Girl with Red Balloon by the pop-artist Banksy sold for over $1.4M. After the final gavel, the print shredded right out of the frame. Most people watching the viral video showing the astonished faces in the auction house, laughed out loud. It represents a small moment of revenge against the pompous art world and super-rich art buyers.

Subconsciously, it was also a collective whelp of protest against modern art that so exemplifies this extravagance for many people around the world. While they toil and save for every penny, art seems to have become so simplistic, banal, and consequently, overvalued. Perhaps one explanation can be found in the 17th century, back when most of these same people can agree that art was still respectable.

At the end of the 17th Century, an antique dealer in Tokyo named Fushimiya, stopped at a tea house for a cup of tea. Upon finishing the cup, he noticed something odd about the way the cup collected steam around its edge so he offered to buy it in addition to paying for the tea. A local artisan who had witnessed this, ran after him and begged Fushimiya to sell him the cup. If a respected antique dealer thought enough to pay for it, it must be worth more than it seemed. The dealer laughed, told him it was just an ordinary cup of no value, and just gave him the cup.

The artisan considered this a generosity from a wealthy person of stature rather than a dismissal of the cup. He still believed it to be highly valuable. So he tried to peddle it to other dealers, but to no avail – for them it was an unremarkable teacup of no particular craftmanship or artistry. He spent a long time trying to find a buyer, even risking his artisan shop and going completely bankrupt. He was so convinced that the cup had greater value that he became obsessed to prove it. After much hardship, he finally sought out Fushimiya. The antique dealer took pity on the poor man and being reasonably wealthy himself, he offered to purchase the cup back from him for a small sum.

The artisan was overjoyed. He was right, the cup had a higher value. Not only did he sell it at a handsome profit, but he was now assured that all the other dealers were wrong in refusing it. he was not shy in retelling the story from his own perspective. Word spread fast of the mystery teacup that must have such significant value that only experts could recognize it. Dealers from all over Japan offered sought out the antique dealer with offers to purchase the teacup. Fushimiya tried to explain the story, but few would listen and the mystery of the teacup only grew with every retelling. Fushimiya must be hiding something about it.

Eventually, to put an end to the drama, Fushimiya put the cup up for auction. As the auction proceeded, two bidders had a dispute over it and the cup was knocked off the auction table and shattered. The auction was cancelled without a sale. Fushimiya dutifully swept up the broken pieces and returned home. There, he quietly glued the cup back together, stored it in a safe place, and tried to forget about the whole experience.

By now, though, the story had become even more mysterious. Rumors continued to spread, and the value of the teacup continued to grow. One day, years later, the famous (and very wealthy) tea master and art collector Matsudaira Fumai visited Fushimiya’s antique store. After the latter told him the entire story of the (in)famous teacup, the tea famous master smiled from ear to ear. He was undaunted by the tale and purchased the teacup for an unbelievably high sum.

That was over 200 years ago.

What would this particular teacup bring at auction today? The cup itself is just ordinary with nothing particularly valuable, artsy or innovative to differentiate it. It was even shattered and glued back together again. It is hardly functional as a cup anymore. Yet, it is likely that at auction today this particular teacup would fetch thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.

Why?

This is because the collector who purchases it is no longer buying a simple teacup, but rather the entire history of it: the entertaining story of why the antique dealer originally purchased it, the artisan who became obsessed with it, how it grew in value despite Fushimiya’s protests, the places the cup had been, the shattering and gluing back together, the many people who inquired about it, the reasons Fushimiya kept it for so long, and ultimately the recognition by a renowned collector. It is the sum of these stories that now make up the value of the cup.

This is also how many pieces of art, even modern abstract ones, increase in value over time. Most people around the world will not select Van Gogh’s Sunflowers as one of his most beautiful pieces. They will sneer disapprovingly at the cigarette butt embedded in Pollock’s 1947 Full Fathom Five. They will scoff at Duchamp’s infamous LHOOQ postcard as vulgar and cheap. Yet, all these incredible pieces of art have an interesting story that makes them much more than a jaundiced still-life, splattering of paint on a canvas, or a defaced postcard. Just as with the worthless teacup, the true value of something is the totality of how it came before us.

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Advertisers understand this phenomenon very well. It isn’t about selling a product, but rather about selling a story that surrounds the product. It is the process of allowing the customer to live vicariously in the story, and convincing her or him that together with the product, they are writing a new story about them that cannot be written separate from the product.

This is why a car salesperson insists on having the customer drive the car they are selling. This is so that the customer can better imagine themselves in it, so that they see others look on enviously as they speed by, and so that they can feel the power under the hood with all their senses. The entire purchase becomes an induction into a whole new chapter in the customer’s life. As one BMW salesman once told me about the brand: “you aren’t buying a car, you are buying a lifestyle.”

On its own, the product is just a car, an abstract picture, or a broken teacup. However, when it is presented in an amazing origin story, one that the customer/client is being offered a scant chance to be part of, then it gains value well beyond the original cost to produce it.

Consider this the next time you propose a new project to a client, sell a widget to a customer, or present your idea to an audience. Tell a story that makes the product indispensable to success, and the product will seamlessly grow in value in direct proportion to the story being told about it.

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As for the Girl with Red Balloon, even half-shredded, it will sell for well over $1.4M in a few short years. This is because of the story that this supposed hoax has created around itself. In effect, every time we click on that video to laugh in glee at the astonished art bidders aghast as the art is “destroyed,” we continue to increase the value of this otherwise rather plain print. In essence, the story of Girl with Red Balloon is still being written and may never be completed. I’m sure that the artist as well as the buyer are both laughing all the way to the Banksy.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

Colegas Group2018
Rommel – Master of Efficiency and Resource Management
 The American M3 Tank, introduced at the the Battle of Gazala in May 1942, surprised the Germans and Italians with its greater range, considerable firepower and good armor. Tank warfare highlighted the growing importance of logistics, resource management, and support, these machines required.

The American M3 Tank, introduced at the the Battle of Gazala in May 1942, surprised the Germans and Italians with its greater range, considerable firepower and good armor. Tank warfare highlighted the growing importance of logistics, resource management, and support, these machines required.

Erwin Rommel was a German WWII general who is still studied in military schools and is considered one of the great strategists of battlefield tactics. In the North Africa theater, he marshalled the German and Italian soldiers who had been beaten back to Tunisia. In a series of lightening battles he beat back the allies all the way within miles of Cairo. Losing Egypt would have threatened the entire Allied supply and communication channel through to the colonies and could very well have turned the tide of the entire war. He was eventually overwhelmed by insurmountable odds, but even in full retreat, he managed to extract the bulk of his army without being captured by the Allies.

On a darker note, Rommel was a German general under who’s leadership some have argued that war crimes occurred. That said, he also opposed the Nazi party when he could and collaborated with the last plot to remove Hitler from power. We may never know the full extent of involvement in the crimes of the war, but we do know quite a bit about how he led on the battlefield, both from his own troops and from his prisoners, who by and large praised his leadership. One area that Rommel also excelled at was working with very limited and dwindling resources.

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Rommel was not the inventor of the famous Blitzkrieg (lightening) style of warfare that was so successful in the conquest of much of Europe, but as commanding officer of tank and infantry divisions in both the Polish and French campaigns, he was a quick study. A good general learns not just from the past, but also adapts what is learned to the present situation.

When he arrived in North Africa, the ample resources that made the European military engagements so successful were not there. Because the Royal Navy still dominated most of the Mediterranean, and especially the critical base of Malta between Italy and Lybia, nearly 60% of the armaments, supplies, food, fuel and personnel were captured or destroyed before they could reach the battlefront in North Africa.

Another problem with the geography was that much of the intelligence that he would need to rely on was compromised. Not only was crucial intelligence lost every time a crossing was captured or destroyed, but it was also clear that the allies had significant knowledge of German and Italian strategic communications, both from their active intelligence network on the ground but also because they were actively cracking top secret communications between North Africa and mainland Europe, including instructions directly from Berlin.

To address these issues, Rommel needed to change his tactics. Rather than sticking to strict procedures as was typical in the German military hierarchy, he implemented processes that were more fluid and adapted to the new conditions. He transformed the expedient Blitzkrieg model of rainy Europe to desert warfare. It turns out that the ability to transform an entire military campaign according to the ever changing conditions of the battlefield was something he was uniquely qualified for.

To address the depleted morale of the troops he put himself on the front lines, dug trenches with the men, ate their rations and most importantly, regularly spoke and interacted with them. Successful generals have done this throughout history, and it is possible that as a student of history he took their example, but while those generals eventually stopped doing this as they rose in rank, he did not. Rommel was always on the front, in almost every battle. When rations ran low and water was scarce, he made sure that he and the other officers received the same amount of water & food as the regular troops.

Another problem in the army was the discord between Italians and Germans, each considering the other inferior (a natural effect of Nazism). This caused obvious problems on the battlefield as different regiments and units would be assigned more dangerous missions. Rommel would have none of it. He treated both Italian soldiers and German soldiers the same without prejudice.

As a further example, he insisted that captured prisoners be treated with the same respect as his own soldiers would want to be treated when captured. They were treated humanely and were given the same rations of water and food as his own men. Against direct orders from Berlin, he also refused to execute soldiers of Jewish and African descent and he kept SS units further back from the front lines to limit their access to the prisoners. He was not just being compliant with established conventions on the treatment of POWs, but doing so served as a powerful example to his men, one that he needed to make to earn their respect.

Adapting the Blitzkrieg to the new environment, Rommel frequently used fewer tanks, men, fuel and supplies than what was traditionally expected. It confused both German/Italian superiors and, more importantly, the Allies. He eschewed reserves and moved quickly to take advantage of situations. This ensured lightning fast maneuvers, often catching allies by surprise and allowing his units to frequently win engagements with far fewer tanks and troops than his enemies. Instead of the long, slow lumbering logistical lines of the Allies, Rommel often ran circles around them, literally. Of course, Rommel often didn’t have the necessary armaments, supplies and reserves in the first place, so this was a convenient adaptation to the environment he was fighting in.

To address the problem of compromised intelligence, he kept Berlin, Rome and headquarters in Tunisia in the dark about his exact plans, sometimes even sending purposely vague or cryptic plans up the chain. As the need arose, he even changed strategies mid-battle. Since he could count on the utmost loyalty of his own officers and troops, they were more willing to make these last minute changes. This ensured that his orders were followed, but that they would not so easily be found out by enemy spies. Obviously this did create consternation from his superiors, but his successes on the battlefield overshadowed this.

Rommel exemplified the adaptable general on the battlefield. So what can we learn from this in our own projects and assignments today?

1. Demonstrate that you are willing to work alongside the team

A good leader works in the trenches with the team. When resources are limited, time is of the essence, or there are significant consequences to failure, that is when leaders need to be actively involved in every aspect of the project. The team members need to see that the leader is fully invested in the success (and prevention of failure) for the project. There certainly is a time to pull rank, but that is best used in moderation, or when criticism intrudes, often from outside of the team. Likewise, when resources are limited a good leader knows that her/his own privileges and rewards are inappropriate and eschews them or distributes them between the entire team.

2. Treat all team members with respect and dignity

Treating all members of the team as equals is unconditionally important. Yes, there are always going to be differences in skills, motivations, and experience, but each member of the team is there for a reason. A good leader works to bring out those attributes that contribute to achieving the stated objective. Most importantly, a leader should never participate in or condone the mistreatment of team members based on physical attributes, whether this is obvious such as gender/race, or whether it is subtler such as an autistic tendency. Everyone is there for a reason and should be rewarded for it. When resources and rewards are limited, this magnanimity goes a long way to bypass the worry over resources and to drive engagement in the team.

3. Use only the resources you need to meet your stated goals

Rommel proceeded with just the troops, tanks and supplies he needed to reach his objectives. Sometimes officers were surprised that Rommel had already left camp in the morning well ahead of them. A good team leader should know exactly how much is needed to complete a specific objective. The rest is often superfluous and negatively impacts progress. When you are dealing with limited resources, this is a convenient convergence of interests. A good leader uses scarcity to her/his advantage.

4. Inform superiors about the general progress, but not the details

As a process of expediency this can be effectively applied, but keeping information from superiors has risks. Rommel had a personal relationship with Hitler at the very top so he could depend on this connection to minimize the criticism from other superiors. Typically, if the goal is a short-term objective and the ramifications are bearable, then it can be justified. A good leader knows how to balance this. A good leader may even take chances if she/he knows that competitors are likely to steal from or compromise the project, but it is also a careful balancing act. Of course, communications, whether through meetings or online, do take time and could incur additional expenses, so it may be possible to justify keeping superiors partially in the dark on those grounds, but as mentioned, this is a difficult balancing act.

* * *

It bears repeating that Rommel was eventually implicated by the SS in the plot to assassinate Hitler. They gave him the option of a public trial which could endanger his family, or to quietly commit suicide. He chose the latter. Had he survived the war, there probably would have been much more we could have learned from Erwin Rommel. While his military career will always be stained by his affiliation with some of the worst figures and events of WWII, we can still learn quite a bit from the successes and setbacks of this historic figure.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

Colegas Group2018
Khrushchev, Belfort and the NYT Anonymous Op-Ed
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It is difficult these days to avoid the news coming from Washington. Last week, an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times strongly criticized the rule of Donald Trump. Because of it was anonymous, the author has been labeled as gutless (Sanders), a coward (Perry), amateurish (Pence), dishonest (Ryan), and even treasonous (Trump). When I heard this, my first thought was that this is nothing new. In just about every history book discussing leaders, there has been dissent. More importantly, the truth about power is how it suppresses genuine and constructive response through fear. This happens in the White House, but also in our own professional lives at the office and even in project teams. Why do good people not stand up to this more often? The answer is fear.

Life under Stalinist Russia was one of constant fear of arrest, deportation to gulags, interrogations, and summary executions. From 1936 until his death in 1953, Stalin is estimated to have killed 20-15 million people. During that time, Nikita Khrushchev, a rising star in the party, also dutifully carried out purges, including those of friends, colleagues, party loyalists, and innocent bystanders, often exceeding the required quotas.

However, after he succeeded Stalin and consolidated his power, he repudiated Stalin’s policies. In a now famous speech during the Twentieth Party Congress on February 14, 1956, having lived a long life under Stalinism (he was now 64), Khrushchev proposed to change course for Russia. He strongly criticized Stalin’s crimes, naming the names of well-known people who had been victims of the purges. This came as a surprise to many of the party members present – there was tension and consternation in the hall. At one point, a heckler in the audience yelled out: “You were one of Stalin's colleagues. Why didn't you stop him?” Khrushchev looked up and yelled back: “WHO SAID THAT?” The place fell to a deafening, agonizing silence. No one dared to raise their hand or speak up. After a long pause Khrushchev said quietly: “Now you know why.”

The very act of physically placing someone in such a vulnerable spot to demonstrate the use of power is a master stroke of leadership. Of course, recognizing the precise moment to use this tactic is a combination of skill and lived experience. To fully understand the power of it, one must have been at some point on the receiving end of it. Khrushchev also lived in constant fear of being arrested and it is why he understood this so well and knew how to apply it to make a point. Experiencing the very condition of repression makes one keenly aware of the use of it for oneself. Of course, there is also some comfort in remembering that those who use it learned about it from personal experience.

Of course, this strategy has other applications as well, such as in sales. When Jordan Belfort, masterfully played by Leonardo Dicaprio, in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, challenges conference attendees to sell him a pen, most of them fail because they do not create need. The salesman’s approach is to take the pen and then ask the other person to write something down. It’s a very powerful statement that takes a situation from the hypothetical to one of physical, real and present need. In effect, it places the client in the same position that Khrushchev placed his heckler.

To understand this thoroughly and to be able to use it at the right moment requires skill, but also experience. This is where professional experience, especially after a well-established career (or two, or more) presents such an overwhelming advantage. Having grown up in the Bronx of New York, graduated from college and hustled his whole life starting companies, Jordan Belfort was no newcomer to sales. Likewise Khrushchev had worked in mining, survived two world wars, and navigated Stalin’s purges all the way to party leadership. Those experiences undoubtedly included some hard lessons along the way.

Being able to put a critic, heckler, client, or opponent in a position of absolute need requires an understanding of being on the receiving end. Now most of the readers here are not living under Stalinist conditions and it is unlikely their work involves as much risk as that of the writer of the NYT op-ed. However, those with some experience and wisdom will realize that sometimes it isn’t simply cowardice, but also a learning experience in the making.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

Colegas Group2018
Hannibal & Alexander - Students of History First
 Both Hannibal and Alexander studied great leaders that preceded them. It is therefore not surprising how similar their early careers were.

Both Hannibal and Alexander studied great leaders that preceded them. It is therefore not surprising how similar their early careers were.

Few people realize that Hannibal Barca, the general from Carthage who proved to be a thorn in the side of the mighty Romans for 38 years, was also an astute student. In a previous article, I explained that he spoke several languages. This helped him lead large armies of mercenaries and auxiliary troops on foreign soil. But this is only part of the story.

Hannibal was also a student of history, and of great leaders who came before him, such as his own father, hero of the first Punic war. He was also a student of Alexander the Great, whom he learned about from learned Greek tutors that his father had hired for him. Interestingly, Alexander was also a student of history by virtue of his father and the tutors assigned to him, most famously Aristotle.

It is actually striking how similar the start of their careers was: both had strong father figures who fostered a love of learning through careful tutelage. Both their fathers also died well before either young man was truly battle-tested, yet both men rose to the occasion when they needed to. They relied on their education and training to become such great military and political geniuses that they are still studied in colleges and military schools to this day. Could there be a connection between a study of history and success in leadership?

Unequivocally, yes.

I realize that for many people today the study of history is like eating kale salad. It’s very good for you, but it takes a lot of dressing to make it go down without hurling. I get it. Perhaps it was one too many bad teachers who forced a bunch of dates and rote memorization down. Or perhaps it just wasn’t relevant enough for today? Well, let this lesson first learned more than 2000 years ago by two of the most studied military leaders of antiquity change your mind.

Let me start by offering some Hollywood-style blood & guts arguments to make the case for studying history. Learning about Hannibal and Alexander is like a non-stop action movie. These two spent the majority of their lives fighting, warmongering, and viciously killing folks. Oh yes, there are healthy doses of human sacrifices, hacking & slashing on the battlefield, executions, and pretty much the most spine chilling acts to read about in their stories....

OK, that didn’t inspire you? Do you need something more cerebral? OK, how about carefully crafted strategies, maneuvers, and covert spy operations? Yes, there is plenty of that too. While you may not be able to hack & slash your way to success around water cooler at work, learning how they out-smarted their enemies both on & off the battlefield is bound to come in handy around the office. Yes, it will also give you an edge against those pesky IT folks next April fools day, I promise.

I also realize that reading history books can be dry work. I love it, but it’s not for everyone, I know. You could check out a few movies, but Hollywood is more about selling tickets than teaching history – they will weave magical creatures, nuclear-level explosions, and hero-saves-the-whole-world scenarios into any story. Yes, you could also binge watch BBC and the History Channel…, ….. OK, we’ll continue when you wake up.

Fortunately, there is another way to get most of a history lesson in a real page-turner without sacrificing too much, and that is with well researched biographies and historical fiction. As a matter of fact, I have recommended Hannibal: The Novel, by Ross Leckie to coaches, business people, leaders, students, and co-workers and no one has ever come back and said it wasn’t worth their time. I now keep several copies with me in my office (email, me if you would like a copy). It’s a short book but it hits all the check-marks.

So start reading some history. And trust me, it is more enjoyable than kale salad, no matter what dressing you lubricate it with.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
Colegas Group2018
Lij Tafari and the Power of Realizing That We Never Start at the Bottom
  Fasil Ghebbi fortress and palace compound, in the Northern province of Gondar, the seat of Ethiopian emperors

Fasil Ghebbi fortress and palace compound, in the Northern province of Gondar, the seat of Ethiopian emperors

Our first job always seems the most difficult one. It is the proverbial start at the bottom. Even for those of us re-entering the workforce after a long break, the thought of having to start at the bottom is daunting. Though hard to recognize, the reality is actually quite different.

Whether that first job is in the stuffy mail-room in the basement of a large corporation, the sweatshop conditions of a back-alley shop in LA’s garment district, or stocking the freezer at McDonald’s, the fact is it is not the bottom. It could always be worse. Immigrants without legal status can teach us a bit about being truly at the bottom, and even they would recognize that their situation is likely better than where they came from. It could always be worse, and keeping this in mind is a very powerful motivator.

The young Ethiopian, Lij Tafari was of noble heritage. He was born in 1892, of Gurage heritage. His father served in the military, was from a land-owning family, and had become a provincial governor. When at the early age of 13, his father died, Lij took over the governorship of Selale, a realm of marginal importance, but that offered an opportunity to learn how to govern. Throughout this time, Lij continued his studies and held fast to a vision that he was already on a path that would lead to greater things. He later assumed governorship of another minor neighboring province, Sidamo. After the death of his brother and ensuing disarray, took over the governorship of Harar province, which was of much greater importance. He now governed over a large swath of Ethiopia and was no longer a minor nobleman.

However, at the court, first of king Menelek II in the early 1930’s and later Menelek II’s succesors, he was still considered of the “landed gentry.” He had not been raised at court, so his right to be there was continuously questioned. He was taunted and made to do menial tasks by the other nobles. Throughout this time, he remained composed and calm, no matter the setback or the embarrassments. As a matter of fact, he became known for his calm decorum during the most trying times and it became a cornerstone of his leadership.

Lij Tafari eventually became Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, the first African nation to join the League of Nations, and a strong influence against the Axis powers of Germany and Italy in WWII. He would become a leading international figure of the 1950s & 60s, a founding figure at the Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, a respected statesman meeting with world leaders like Mao Zedong, a respected attendee at the funerals of JFK and Charles de Gaule, and a leading proponent of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. He even sent Ethiopian troops to fight in the Korean war under US leadership.

All these achievements would not have been possible if he had allowed his position at the start of his journey dominate his thinking. No matter how foreboding the road ahead may seem, the most important thing to remember is that we never start completely at the bottom. Even the realization that we are near a proverbial bottom, is a revelation that we are already some measure above it. This position, this state of mind, is critical in realizing that we have already achieved something, that we are already on our way, and that the first hurdle is behind us. That is a truly empowering thought. Haile Selassie understood this, and so can we as Collegiate Gigsters, no matter at what point we are on the path to success.

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
Colegas Group2018
Recognizing the Unlikely Hero - The Courage of Noor Inayat Khan
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I'm a sucker for a good spy thriller, and stories of the second world war offer quite a few. This past week I read the biography of Noor Inayat Khan, which has also been made into a movie that looks to be well reviewed. Her unusual background, her unlikely reasons for joining the military in the first place, and her work British Intelligence made this a fascinating read. Stories such as hers put the difficulties we encounter working as Collegiate Gigsters in perspective.

In a way, it wasn't really her fight and having been raised as a pacifist, working in the French Underground during WWII was quite out of character, but Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, an Indian-Muslim and American child living a life of privilege in the capital cities of Europe, had many of the skills the British military were short on during the war. Living in England at the time, she joined the British Army with her brother in 1940. Being a pacifist, she strongly opposed the German war offensive but she would only serve in a position where she would not be asked to kill anyone. She eventually received a post in Occupied France under F-Section of the the Special Operations Executive, assisting the French Resistance as a wireless radio operator.

Working as a wireless radio operator was particularly dangerous  - a rather morbid statistic of the time was the the typical radio operator had a survival time of approximately six months. Khan had trained for three years for this mission, she spoke French fluently and being a petite and attractive female might be helpful in avoiding suspicion. She courageously performed her duties and faithfully helped the cause of the Resistance. Unfortunately, she was betrayed by a double-agent, arrested, sent to prison in Germany and eventually executed as a spy.

Despite being such an unlikely candidate for this mission, what fascinates me is that she consciously chose to take on these responsibilities and accept the risks. Even after being arrested and quite possibly tortured, then sent to hard labor and then solitary confinement before being executed, she never revealed anything to the SS and remained true to the cause until the end. A quiet and unlikely hero during a very dark time of our history.

The lesson here is that we can't always know which one of us end up being heroes. Sometimes it is the most unlikely person who ends up surprising everyone. There will be times when we are called to be that person ourselves, and there will be times when we are asked to hire, fire, promote, or demote someone like this. It takes someone with experience, intelligence, and and open mind to identify such a person, i.e. a Collegiate Gigster.

 

 

By Michael Koetsier

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree.
Colegas Group2018
The Big Mouth of Coriolanus
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Gaius Marcius Coriolanus was a general of Rome in the 5th Century BCE. His story has been retold in classic works by Plutarch and Livy, although he is best remembered as the tragic hero in Shakespeare's play, an excellent rendition of which is available through the BBC here. The story also engendered great paintings, an often-performed dramatic overture by Beethoven, and several modern Hollywood movies, including this most recent rendition starring Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes, and Vanessa Redgrave in the eponymous role of Coriolanus' mother.

The historical Coriolanus came to fame for his heroic deeds on the battlefield, especially for his role in crushing Rome's enemy, the neighboring Volsci. The modern renditions of his story then focus on his exile and the events that followed. Banished from Rome, he appeared before the leader of the Volsci and offered to lead them to victory against Rome. Indeed, he succeeded in destroying most of Rome's allies and then proceeded to lay siege to his former city. He was intent on complete revenge and no embassy could sway his will, until a dramatic plea made by his wife, sons, and most of all, his mother finally convinced him to abandon the campaign. He later died in disgrace in exile. Obviously this makes for great drama on the stage and hence, the story of Coriolanus is well known.

What is not as well known is how he ended up in exile. As a war hero, he was well respected. He decided to then run for office for the powerful position of consul. As he demonstrated to the people his many scars from battle, and spoke boastfully of his exploits, the people initially rallied around him and his election was going to be a shoe-in. Unfortunately, he was not as great an orator and as he made more speeches, his prejudices and his military rigidity began to show through. The more he spoke, the more he was loathed, to the point that he was eventually put on trial for his narrow views. Rather than suffer that fate, he fled the city to the Volsci and disgraced himself completely.

The lesson here is that leaders should know when to speak and when not to speak. This is especially true when the leader's views are unpopular - every leader sometimes has to share bad news but the key is to know how to say it and when. Coriolanus cared little for conventions, for proper speech, or for any view but his own. When he spoke and it displeased people, he dug in and stuck to his views despite the growing opposition. He would utterly dismiss opposing views as irrelevant and boorishly forge ahead with his own ideas no matter the consequences (...not unlike a modern leader with similar traits).

For Collegiate Gigsters, however, it is important not to lead with a big mouth. Know the limits of a situation and speak less rather than more, especially when the mood in the room starts to veer from the desired path. The way of Coriolanus is one that leads to disgrace and eventually betrayal, but it also generates much misery for everyone else along the way, thus creating more resentment and anger.

In short: don't be a Coriolanus!

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This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
Colegas Group2018