Four simple, yet profound, lessons from an ancient philosopher still ring true today.
“Of every hundred men, Ten shouldn’t even be there
Eighty are nothing but targets
Nine are real fighters…We are lucky to have them…
…They make the battle.
Ah, but the One, One of them is a Warrior…
…and He will bring the others back.”
–Heraclitus (circa 500 B.C.)
These powerful words are widely attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Nothing of what he wrote survives, so we have to rely on other philosophers who quoted him. While the “Warrior” Heraclitus refers to is presumably an armed combatant, his observations apply readily to the battlefield of the business world today.
“Of every hundred men, Ten shouldn’t even be there”
We’ve all known and worked with people like this. You wonder, “How the heck did he get this job?” or “Why is she still here?” There are many reasons but they are not worth some pre-Socratic contemplation. The incompetent have always been in the workplace— at all levels— but their days are numbered.
“Eighty are nothing but targets…”
Organizations are filled with many good people, hard working, and dutifully putting in their time. Unfortunately, they can be oblivious to changes taking places both inside and outside the company. They are often the ones trusting safety in numbers, banking on the ax falling on someone else. If you are among their ranks and tempted to keep your head down and nose clean, don’t count on this approach to keep working. Your only ally is the luck of the draw, and Lady Luck hasn’t been too kind lately.
“Nine are real fighters…We are lucky to have them……They make the battle.”
The fighter is who we want to be, perhaps who we imagine ourselves to be. These are people willing to take chances and look for new opportunities. They’re in the game, working smart and hard, and getting demonstrable results. The company can’t grow without them. But it can and does replace them, either when they fall or when their usefulness ends.
“Ah, but the One, One of them is a Warrior…and He will bring the others back.”
The One. That one. The person who doesn’t just inhabit his job but makes his role come alive. While he might be irreplaceable he knows that he can be replaced so he is constantly updating his skills, reading, keeping up with trends, always with an eye out for storms and opportunities on the horizon. He knows a moving target is tough to hit. He has an engaging, positive outlook even when the going gets tough. He helps pull others up, even as he plots his next foothold on the corporate edifice. He knows being The One is not easy, and there are never any guarantees.
Heraclitus believed change to be the sole constant of the universe. The One is always preparing and adapting to it. Perhaps it’s time to focus on becoming “The One” at whatever it is we do. Or else we might wind up as Heraclitus himself did. Angry, bitter, and wandering the rock-strewn badlands of his ancient world, eating grass.