Genghis Khan: Savages to conquer the world?

In 1979 there was an interesting Song as part of the European Song Contest: Dschinghis Khan. I was a little boy of 5 years but the melody got stuck in my head. The lyrics suggested that the Mongols were some kind of primitives. Later, I heard about the Mongol invasion into Europe and something did sound wrong: how can a group of savages run over half of Europe and a huge part of Asia? Every war I have heard of showed that wars are costly activities. And your armies overextend themselves, they bleed out, etc. So, how could a hardly known group of nomads rule most of the known world within 1 or 2 generations? And how could it happen that they ruled big empires for over 150 years, even ruling the Chinese, the most advanced nation of that time?

I recently read the great book “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford (ISBN13: 9780609809648). The book has a good explanation. Mongols might have had a rough life, but they were not savages. Prior to Genghis Khan they were only absorbed in fighting themselves. Genghis Khan was the man who became supreme leader of all Mongols. And his methods were far from primitive, although often brutal. He was breaking with traditions time after time but kept enough to create a strong coherence.

So far, so interesting. Now, how could the joint Mongols conquer everything? Well, according to the book, the Mongols used their superior battle skills, but incorporated all strategies that they could find. E.g. they must have had brilliant engineers, building all kind of siege weapons in short time. They were smart enough to “hire” more engineers in the conquered areas.  They used fear as a weapon. But the one story that did explain the above questions to me was about the expedition into Europe. Whilst in Europe much emphasis was on honour and fighting bravely during battle, the Mongol’s emphasis was on winning. So, imagine a European army that is ready to fight, like at the Battle of Legnica. The Mongols start a bit of fighting but then retreat. The Europeans thought they have won (why would the enemy flee otherwise?) and charge after the Mongols and overextending themselves, separating cavalry from infantry.  The Mongols were just keeping out of range on their enduring horses and when the chasing army was completely disordered changed direction again and killing everyone with their long distance bows with minimal human costs to their own army. In addition the Mongols were using smoke in combination shouting “Run/Flee” in the language of the opponent to add to the confusion. This was strategy, using the weakness of the enemy, their believe in honour, their bad organisation. And it seems like the Mongols have adjusted their strategy each time. With this approach the Mongols could conquer everything.

The book highlights many other interesting achievements, whether in battle, or regarding religious freedom, regarding society or regarding organisation. Organisation by the way was the reason the wars were an economical success for the Mongols and they kept in power for a long time.

I have too little knowledge to confirm any of the many points of the book. It might not be exactly scientific, but what it does get across is that the Mongols were no primitive savages. To be as successful as they were they needed to outsmart their enemies on a regular base and overcome the paradigms of their time.

So, what are the lessons learned?

  1. If something sounds odd, start digging. There is a reason. It might be a simple misunderstanding, or it might be that you only hear a part of the story. Which part was left out and why?
  2. If you are willing to leave from your traditions and are willing to learn you can conquer the world. Of course you need luck. Of course one cannot just repeat a story like Genghis Khans. But you hear regular stories about individuals that are creating amazing impact. And normally you hear that they have broken with “known” paradigms.

By the way, the impact of the Mongols on the course of world was potentially bigger than one thought of. Whilst Central Europe ultimately got lucky and wasn’t affected that much,  the Mongols had a huge impact on Islam, changing the course of Islam to my (limited) knowledge. There was even a connection between the distribution of the black death and the commerce/road network in the Mongol empire. But not all impact was negative. Many ideas got born and ideas got distributed. Life would be different today. And all that because one man – with luck – took on the world, adapting to the circumstances whenever needed.

How to Live a Remarkable life in a Conventional World

Have you ever thought that a 9 to 5 job isn’t the right thing for you? Did you ever get impressed by all the stories about the really successful people and how they often didn’t study? Did you think that you should do something totally different, but for a number of reasons you are stuck with what you do?

I know, very pathetic. But I guess we all have similar thoughts from time to time. And some people are struggling even more with these thoughts. I met plenty of people with non-traditional CVs, not following the standard path of life. And I could imagine that they would especially like this document, but not only them: “A Brief Guide to World Domination* – How to Live a Remarkable life in a Conventional World *and other important goals” written by Chris Guillebeau. I like the style – especially the humour that is already shown in the title. But I recommend it for the content which is actually thought-provoking. In essence it’s a call for “start with the end in mind”, and then work against the end, based on your key strength.

I have seen most of the content before, but as we know a different presentation will lead to different results. This presentation triggered me to think about the two key questions of the document. Thanks Chris!


Goals and Measures

Let’s look at goals and how a good measure is supportive to the goal. I will connect a few things that I have learned over time.

Andrey Salomatin writes about Theory of Constraints (TOC) and applies it to Software development. So far, he has 3 articles:  Systems thinking in management and Work hard enough and you won’t finish anything and I bet you look good on the plant floor. Well worth reading.

However, the one that really triggered me thinking was the first: Systems thinking in management. I am not sure whether I ever thought about it before, but he has a nice phrase in his article:

Goal has nothing to do with System’s internals. Look for it outside of the System.

One of his examples (he has more) is an airplane. Airplanes don’t exists to fly (internal), they exists in order to let people travel fast from A to B (outside). Good one. But he got further. He was describing a situation where misaligned measures are contra productive to the goal of the system. Measure get misaligned when internal goals are prioritised over external goals.  Instead of using his example would I like to describe the story that I heard earlier and that made this article so relevant to me.

I once was on an Enterprise Architecture conference where I was lucky enough to listen to Roger Burton. He told a story about a global manufacturing company that was his client (he didn’t provide a name but a hint that we would all know it). The board of that manufacturer wanted to reduce the time from the order until the customer got the ordered goods.  For some 2 years all the programmes to improve that time didn’t help. He was looking at the problem from a measure perspective. His philosophie behind that was the simple “mantra”:

You get the process you are measuring.

So, people will adjust their processes in order to improve the measures. If your salary is connected to a measure, wouldn’t you do the same?

What were the measures in Roger’s example?

  • Sales team members got a bonus for every order coming in in the last 2 days of the month (one can easily imagine how this one started). This meant that sales people whenever possible delayed the order in order to get it placed at the end of month (reinforcing the perceived need for this incentive). Result? First delay for the customer.
  • Production team was measured on costs. How do you drive down costs? Increase batch size! So, production team was delaying production of goods in order to increase batch size.
  • The next one was internal logistic, it was a global manufacturer after all, so unfinished goods needed to be send regularly between plants. How do you drive down logistic costs? Fill the truck/container. What was logistics measure on? Cost. Does waiting to fill the container improve total turnover time?

He only named these 3, but I can easily see how other departments were working against misaligned goals, too. Roger’s story ended with the comment that the board was seeing improvements quickly once the measures were aligned with the goal of the company, to reduce order-to-delivery time.

Align your measures with your goals. The goal is not within your department. Not even within your company. If you want to make money by selling, you are already misaligned. Your customer’s benefits are what you need to measure against. Which, interestingly enough, was the topic of my previous post.

By the way, I found Andrey’s articles through my current favourite blog, Knowledge Jolt with Jack.

Business Motivation Model

I mentioned the Business Motivation Model earlier. The Business Motivation Model is a model that explains core terminology for an organisation. The model is an OMG standard.

I got aware of the model during a conference when one of the main authors (the Business Rules expert Ronald Ross) explained it briefly. It doesn’t surprise that he uses the model to explain how Business Rules fit into an organisation.

I used the model to define the strategy of our department. The big advantage is that it explains easily the difference between concepts like “Vision”, “Mission”, “Goal”, “Objective”, “Strategy”, and “Tactic”. Having the clear distinction of these terms facilitates discussions that allow focusing on the “why” behind your activities. The terminology and relationships between the concepts provided by the model make it simple to see the bigger picture and how everybody’s work relate to our goals.

The model includes further related concepts as can be seen from the diagram on the right side.