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Alexander: from great to impossible

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Legend had it that even the son of Zeus couldn’t capture the Rock of Aornos near the Indus River in Persia. Everybody considered it impregnable.

That intrigued Alexander the Great, so he started a routine siege while figuring out how his army could take the rock. Soon, he found some local guides who suggested an answer:  Scale the sheer walls on one side. The walls were never defended because people assumed they were too steep to climb.

Alexander’s vertical assault of Aornos worked because nobody expected it.

Lesson: Alexander never accepted someone else’s reality. Instead, here framed the impossible into the possible.

Business example: Around 1990, GE began reframing each of its industry segments. Glues became “adhesives,” light bulbs became “lighting,” sandpaper became “abrasives”and so on.

Why? A decade earlier, CEO Jack Welch had required each of his powerhouse business units to become one of the top two concerns in its industry or face divestiture. The resulting race with other giant competitors in skinny little markets cramped GE’s growth, so Welch patched up that particular self-inflicted wound.

Once GE started pursuing more broadly defined markets in the 1990s, it became the biggest industrial company in the world.

Are your expectations too limited? Is your reality too conventional? Examine every “impossible” route for an unguarded path, then dart in (or up) and surprise the unwary.

— Adapted from The Wisdom of Alexander the Great, Lance B. Kurke, Amacom.

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