Weekly Thoughts

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Wellington Defeated

We recently heard a sermon that reminded us that in 1799, Napoleon waged a series of wars in an effort to establish France’s supremacy in the European political theater.  The wars, now known as the Napoleonic Wars, culminated in June 1815 with the Battle of Waterloo.  At Waterloo, England, led by the Duke of Wellington, defeated the French army, thereby ending Napoleon’s bid for everlasting imperial power (he abdicated four days later). 

In the early 19th century, the technology to transmit messages from France across the English Channel consisted of powerful light beams transmitted in a series of dots and dashes—basically a visual Morse code.  When the British won the Battle of Waterloo, they understandably wanted to share the good news with the motherland and prepared the following straightforward message “Wellington Defeated Napoleon at Waterloo”.  Unfortunately, at the time of transmission, fog rolled in which obfuscated the last three words of the victory message.  The message that actually flashed across the English Channel was simply “Wellington defeated”. 

The immediate national reaction was one of fear; a financial panic swept the British Board of Trade. Thankfully, the fog eventually lifted, allowing the full message to be transmitted, and the joyous news of victory at Waterloo reversed the initial fear and panic.  Unlike the sermon, our main takeaway from this story wasn’t necessarily one of Resurrection, it was one of the pitfalls of communication gone awry. 

Years ago, we attended a Tony Robbins business seminar, which introduced us to the “clarify and verify” concept.  The idea is that there are multiple communication components in any business process.  Good communication ensures messages don’t get convoluted when moving through the proverbial value chain.  As a result, it’s incumbent on us to “clarify and verify” the information we are both giving and receiving to ensure it’s understood.  It’s also important not to react emotionally until we have all of the necessary information. 

Building on this, we recently listened to a Hidden Brain podcast on The Transformative Ideas of Daniel Kahneman.  In it, Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning behavioral psychologist (who recently passed away) commented that when making decisions, it’s best to not “form a general impression of a situation until you have all the information. Delay intuition. Don’t give it up necessarily, delay it.” 

In the world of SMB, it’s very easy to accidentally transmit—and receive—partial messages and make knee-jerk emotional responses.  Yes, sometimes the news is actually bad.  However, sometimes, a lack of technology results in missing data.  Sometimes, texts are unintentionally tersely written.  Sometimes, you only get one side of the story.  Sometimes, you have to decipher rumor from fact.  Sometimes, emails are unanswered because somebody is busy doing other stuff.  All of these situations can result in coming to a logical yet incorrect conclusion.  The Wellington Defeated story is a wonderful reminder that it’s incumbent on us to clarify and verify our data and suspend reacting until we are sure we have all of the information.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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