Dogmatic approaches to business – like the Confederacy’s strategy at Gettysburg – are likely to fail

Stock image, St. George News

FEATURE — The battle of Gettysburg is the bloodiest of the Civil War. All told, both armies suffered about 97,000 casualties, nearly one-third of all the troops engaged. It has gone down in history as the turning point of the war and where the south lost, all because of General Robert E. Lee’s dogmatic devotion to Napoleonic strategy.

This photo shows the so-called “High Water Mark” as it appears today. This is the location on Cemetery Ridge where the Confederate Army attacked the center of the Union lines on the 3rd day of the Battle of Gettysburg, August 2005 | Photo by Robert Swanson via CC 3.0, St. George News

In the Gettysburg campaign, Lee attempted two of Napoleon’s strategies: strategic penetration and envelopment. The first, “strategic penetration,” is where a general breaks through enemy lines and seizes a defensible terrain feature deep in enemy territory, often separating the enemy force from their capitol city and forcing them to fight. He would also attempt to use Napoleon’s envelopment strategy, attacking the enemy flanks while holding a strong central position to guard against enemy offensives.

On the first day, Lee attempted to break the Union lines and seize the rocky hills surrounding the town, but he failed thanks to staunch Union resistance. On the second day, Lee attempted an envelopment strategy against the Union flank that now occupied the hills. Lee hoped that attacking the flanks would weaken the Union center who would have to reinforce the flanks to prevent their collapse. Thanks to new technology that allowed Union troops greater accuracy and shorter reloading time, and the resolve of commanders like Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, Lee’s troops failed.

On the third day of the battle instead of adapting to the situation, and despite heavy protests from his right-hand man General James “Pete” Longstreet, Lee doubled down. He committed 12,500 soldiers led by General George Pickett to advance three-quarters of a mile across an open field, under heavy artillery fire to break the center of the Union line. The advance failed and nearly 9,000 men of the Confederate forces were killed, captured or wounded.

Lee refused to see the situation on the ground for what it was, thankfully. And as a result, the Confederate States of America ceased to exist as a political entity, and millions of people held in slavery were freed. Lee’s dogmatic attachment to Napoleonic strategy is responsible for his loss at Gettysburg, and that equates to the loss of the war.

What is your “hammer?”

Businesses can fall into a similar trap of approaching every situation dogmatically. As business owners, we often find that one tool that we really love. We cling to that shiny hammer and use it for every situation. You have a bottle that needs to be opened? Grab the hammer? Need a hole? Grab the hammer.

Stock image, St. George News

Perhaps it’s Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle,” Jim Collin’s “Good to Great,” Steve Jobs’ managerial style or any other number of other management styles. But whatever the problem seems to be, you come back to that theory and use it to explain away why you aren’t hitting your targets. And, instead of adapting, you double down.

If you want a quality job, then you’ll need a whole chest full of tools to get the job done right.

It’s time for new tools

As my dear grandmother used to say, “Nobody can be all right.” No tool can fit 100 percent of the jobs required in your daily life, and especially in your business. So, as a business owner, it’s time to get some new tools.

Get a library card and use it. Don’t have time to go to the library? No problem. There are plenty of digital library options offered by public libraries across the nation. Locally, we have the overdrive app that gives us access to thousands of great books. And don’t just read business books. Read history, biography, novels, science, philosophy — anything that catches your fancy. And learn to process what you read. Getting new tools is important, but a tool that’s not available is worthless.

Talk to people. Ask them lots of questions. Ask them what they would do in your situation. Ask them what tools they would use. Contact your favorite authors if they’re still alive. They love to hear from people who found value in their work. It feels so exciting to reach out to an author with questions or insights and get responses back.

Love your toolbox

As you get and use more tools, you’ll find solutions to problems that are far more elegant and precise than trying to make your pet tool fit the job you have. You’ll increase in success. And you’ll find that your life gets easier. Just ask the guy who was trying to dig a hole with a spoon until he was handed a back-hoe.

Keep your sword sharp.

Written by ZACHARY STUCKI. Stucki is a business consultant based in St. George, Utah, with years of experience helping companies hit their targets and scale their businesses. He holds an MBA from Arizona State University and focuses on supplying clients with the latest solutions, as well as time-tested solutions garnered through human history. Contact Stucki at [email protected].

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