The speed of Genghis Khan

The speed of Genghis Khan

Whether measured by the total number of people defeated, the sum of the countries annexed or by the total area occupied, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history.  In 25 years, his Mongol army subjugated more lands and people than the Romans had conquered in 400 hundred years.  The majority of people today live in countries once conquered by the Mongols, during the first half of the 13th century.  In contrast to almost every major army in history, the Mongol army travelled lightly, without a supply train. Let me zoom in on some examples to illustrate this.

By waiting until the coldest months to make the desert crossing, men and horses required less water. Dew also formed during this season, which stimulated the growth of some grass that provided grazing for horses and attracted game that the warriors of Genghis Khan eagerly hunted. Instead of transporting slow-moving siege engines and heavy war equipment with them, the Mongols carried a faster-moving corps of “engineers” who could build whatever was needed on the spot from available materials.  When the Mongols came to the first trees after crossing the vast desert, they cut them down and made them into ladders, siege engines and other instruments for their attack.  This enormous agility gave the army of Genghis Khan a lot of speed.  

Ok, fast forward to today.  In this new world, the big question facing business leaders everywhere is how to stay competitive and grow profitably in a business context of increasing turbulence and disruption.  I often see that companies who made it past the start-up stage are optimized much more for efficiency than for strategic agility: the ability to capitalize on opportunities and avoid threats with speed and assurance.

Just like the Mongol army of Genghis Khan, companies should travel lightly: have second thoughts about legacy systems and complex bureaucracies.  Create speed by having an operating model that is especially effective.  The Mongols managed to maneuver so quickly because they were not slowed down by supply lines like traditional armies were.  What about your company?  Are there plenty of procedures?  Do you have to navigate politics when you want to try something new?  Is your company sometimes its own enemy of speed? 

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