What Would Genghis Do?

22 May 2007 at 10:15 am 5 comments

| Peter Klein |

After reading Jack Weatherford’s book on Genghis Kahn last year I imagined writing a business bestseller, “Genghis Kahn on Leadership,” or maybe “Genghis Kahn: Five Lessons for Managers.” Unfortunately I’ve been beaten to the punch (1, 2). (Thanks to Tommy Sallee for the links.)

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Varieties of Institutionalism Keynes on the Entrepreneur

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joe Mahoney  |  22 May 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Perhaps these writings will be made into movies and shown eventually at the Kahn film festival. :-)

  • 2. jonfernquest  |  23 May 2007 at 2:48 am

    From site 2: “Aggressive Process as a Strategic Weapon”

    The analogy of Mongol warfare practices with modern management practices is forced.

    Mass slaughter and depopulation of territory would be the equivalent to having surprise Valentines Day Massacres instead of normal meetings.

    Equallly important to be learned from Genghis Khan: 1. Adaptation to long existing Chinese political practice to derive benefit from it, and 2. how he overstretched himself in several of his Asian campaigns and quickly retreated, e.g. in Burma.

    Is his sudden short lived impact really worth emulating though. The Romans were much more better attuned to long run survival and adjustment to changing environments.

  • 3. John Mathews  |  24 May 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Yes there’s something fascinating about the organizational strategies of conquerors like Genghis Khan, and Weatherford’s book goes a long way to correcting the complacent Eurocentric view of the ‘horde’ that we have been brought up on in school history. An unbiased reading of the history indicates that the Khan would certainly have taken Vienna in 1242 and no doubt gone on to claim all of Europe, which at the time was scarcely more than an appendage of the world economy centred on China, India and the Turkish empire. European history would have taken a very different turn, and perhaps looked more like Chinese history with its long periods of intermingling with Mongol lords.

    What is striking in the ‘management lessons’ to be drawn from Genghis Khan in the repeated use of units of ten in the Mongol armed forces – which recalls the similar units based on multiples of ten that that other conquering horde, known as Rome, utilized so successfully. Roman centuries were not just military units but basic economic and social organizational units as well. There seems to be something about the power of ten that appeals to military civilizations whose rationale is plunder and parasitism. I use the word parasite advisedly, in the biological sense as an organism whose practices test the fitness of populations exposed to the parasite. The civilizations that succumbed to Genghis Khan revealed their weaknesses in so doing, and likewise the civilizations that succumbed to Rome revealed their rigidities as burdens when faced with Rome’s ‘flexible gigantism’.

    But the real issue for ‘Organizations and markets’ in all this is the distinction to be drawn between organizations in attack mode (like the conquering Mongols) and in defence mode – like the Roman imperial state once the easy targets had been conquered and absorbed. Too much of the current writing in strategy makes no distinction between firms in attack mode – such as challengers seeking to enter new markets — and in defence mode, as incumbents looking to ward off attacks. The Porter ‘five forces’ framework encourages this kind of thinking, taking as it does the perspective of the firm engaged in ‘rivalry’ with other incumbents and seeking to ward off ‘new entrants’. Likewise the conventional Resource-based view emphasises the resources of the already well-resourced incumbents, rather than the much more interesting issue as to how challengers equip themselves with the resources needed to enter an established market. These perspectives miss the most interesting action, which is how the challengers themselves strategize over their attack. How do they mobilize the resources necessary to build a replicate activities structure that can compete with the incumbents? How do they build the dynamic capabilities needed to outwit well established incumbents? These are the really interesting questions in strategy that the dominant frameworks, with their emphasis on strategy as earning rents, simply overlook or obscure. This is what I was getting at in my article in Strategic Organization where I made a distinction between firms’ strategizing over the winning of Knightian profits as opposed to firms’ sitting back and reaping rents.

  • 4. Sudha Shenoy  |  25 May 2007 at 9:29 am

    1. Please have a look at the H-Net review of Weatherford’s book. He’s an anthropologist, not an historian, & it shows at many points. A book by a specialist historian is: David Morgan, The Mongols, Blackwell 1986. The standard biography is Leo de Hartog, Genghis Khan, 1989 (pb 2004.)

    2. The Mongols who invaded Eastern Europe & fetched up at the gates of Vienna were sent out by Genghis Khan’s son, Ogedei. They withdrew on hearing of his death, to participate in the power struggles that yielded the next Khan.

    3. Even in the 12th & 13th centuries, we have accounts of European travellers who went as far as Central Asia. But there are virtually no accounts of travellers in the opposite direction, from India, China, or the remnant Seljuk states to Europe. Why? (I repeat a question which Prof Bauer often asked.)

  • 5. jonfernquest  |  29 May 2007 at 1:11 am

    Thanks for the link to that H-Net review. In my comment above I meant to say “Khubilai Khan” not “Genghis Khan.” Given the comments about inaccuracies, lack of footnotes, and garbled narrative in the H-Net review, I think I’ll stick with the comprehensive Cambridge histories. That good things can happen in the wake of destruction, for example steel mills destroyed can be rebuilt with new technology, is only a positive side-effect of what is still essentially a bad thing that has been overcome at great cost, thank god. Next thing you know, there’ll be revisionist histories of Hitler!

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