Thursday, June 16, 2022

Make Knights, Not Castles: a modern allegory

Image from pixabay under creative commons license
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there were two twin brothers who grew up in a small, poor village.  Castille was older by ten minutes and never let the younger brother, Nico, forget it.  They were always competing to see who could be stronger and dreamed of one day living in the castle on the other side of the hill.  As they grew older, they assembled some friends and trained hard to turn them into a band of brave knights.  One day they attacked the castle and won it, achieving their childhood dream.

But then things fell apart.  Having won such a prize, Castille wanted to keep it to himself.  He grew jealous and paranoid of his brother’s friendships with the knights.  One day,  Nico was out hunting with his best knights, when Castille barred the gates and shut him out.  

Having won the prize, Castille worked to secure it.  He added bigger stones to the castle walls, so that it would not be so easily taken.  But his brother did not come.  So the next year, he added more stones to his wall, building higher and higher.  Still his brother did not come.  Fearing Nico was building a large army, Castille built another wall around his castle and then another.  It was a very impressive castle, but slowly people trickled away, as there was nothing to do but build walls.   As he grew old, Castille began to regret shutting Nico out, worrying that he had died without the shelter of the castle.   But then one autumn morning, his brother stood at his gate.

Nico had no army, and had traded his chain mail for a linen suit.  He looked happy, not angry, and so Castille invited him in for breakfast.  Nico told him that being locked out of the castle was the best thing that could have happened to him and his knights.  Nico’s face glowed with excitement as he described the vastness of the world outside the castle walls and regaled Castille with stories of adventure and triumph.  Together with his loyal friends, Nico had conquered a few more castles.  But then seeing more opportunity in trade, they transformed into merchants and built a vast empire across the seas.  They then became businessmen and entrepreneurs.  They had built companies that made technical wonders that Castille did not believe were possible until Nico pulled a seemingly magical device from his pocket.   Castille was amazed, so proud of his brother and insanely jealous at the same time.

And then Nico left, and Castille was left alone in a castle that no longer felt like a prize but a prison instead.  Nico and his friends had conquered the world, one in which his castle was no longer relevant.

The world is constantly changing.  Castles (capital infrastructure) can seem like an advantage, but relying on what you own can limit your thinking and box yourself in.  Instead, invest in building up people.  Teach your teams how to think innovatively so that they can solve any problem and adapt quickly to changing environments.  Together, you can conquer the world, and maybe you won’t be left renting out your castle on airbnb.