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Continuing the series started a few weeks ago with Bette Davis, here are some lessons that a bright dead personality could teach us were they alive today. This week: Gaius Julius Caesar – a guy so successful in his time that his last name became synonymous with “Emperor”. (Point of note: the term “Czar” is a contraction of “Caesar.”)

Here what Julius Caesar might talk about if he could speak at #Likeminds, #Ungeeked and #SxSW today:

1. Six inches of point beats two feet of blade.

The Roman legions conquered most of the known world using javelins and the standard issue short-sword called a Gladius. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, the gladius was a stabbing weapon, not a hacking/slicing weapon. Compared to long swords and battle axes wielded by barbarian hordes, the gladius seemed a child’s weapon: Short and dagger-like, not particularly good at slicing. Yet its six inches of stabbing point beat its longer, scarier counterparts in battle. Why? Because the Roman legions were trained to use it properly.

What the Roman legions knew (and the barbarian hordes – including my own people, the Gauls didn’t) is that flailing wildly with long, heavy weapons forces you to commit too much to each attack. Swinging a heavy weapon opens up your guard just long enough for a legionnaire to thrust his gladius from behind a wall of shields and take you down. Not to mention the energy efficiency of a quick thrust vs. a wide swing. Legions used less energy in battle than their ill-trained counterparts, which allowed them to fight longer, thus giving them the ability to win against 2:1 and sometimes 3:1 odds.

Sometimes, the difference between effectiveness and failure lies in how expertly a tool is used. Bigger and better doesn’t guarantee success. Fluency and expertise in the use of very specific tools, however, can turn an apparent disadvantage into a win. A well trained operator with a simple  tool can be much more effective than a less well trained operator with an expensive, more impressive tool. Never take training, focus and discipline for granted.

2. People want to be led, not controlled.

While Julius Caesar was in command of his legions, he was hailed as a hero. His men would have followed him anywhere (and did). Why? Because he led them to victory and glory.

When he returned to Rome after defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar tried to rule Rome as a dictator. That didn’t work so well. In shifting from leadership to absolute control, he stepped over a line that the people of Rome – and even his closest allies – refused to cross with him. The result: Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators bent on making an example of his death to any future would-be dictators. The lesson: Leadership = good. Control = bad.

Leadership implies direction. It promises a better tomorrow. It engages and fascinates and inspires. Control, however, is a crushing weight on liberty that no man ever accepts freely. Control breeds resentment and hatred. It fosters discord and revolution. Be aware of the difference and how your leadership/management style is perceived by the people under your charge. Aim to lead, never to control.

3. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

A) Everyone loves a winner. The ingredients of leadership may be a brew of courage, vision and intelligence, but its flavor and appeal are the wins. It isn’t enough to be a leader. You have to prove it again and again by pulling off some key victories. Winning gives you something to talk about. Not winning means you should talk less and work more.

B) Brevity goes hand in hand with clarity. It doesn’t get much clearer than “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Even in twitterland, that leaves you more than enough room to add a hyperlink to a PDF that elaborates on such a succinct report.

4. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Books are nice. They’re a start. But at some point, you have to DO the thing. You have to build the business. Grow the business. Win market share. Outpace your competitors. Recruit the best minds. Create the culture-changing products. Fix the accelerator glitch. Stop the giant underwater oil leak. Rejuvenate your brand. Redefine your market. This stuff isn’t theoretical. You have to roll up your sleeves and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Julius Caesar learned soldiering with the rank and file of the Roman legions. He fought in the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with legionnaires. He slept with them, ate with them, drank with them, marched with them and bled with them. Had he not spent years in the trenches doing the work himself, he would not have been the military leader he became. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

The subtleties of experience trump the best theoretical education in the world. Books will only get you started. You have to go the other 90% of the way through hard work. There’s just no getting around it. If you can’t learn how to be a race car driver by reading books, you certainly can’t learn how to lead an army of run a business that way either.

As for Social Media “certifications,” forget about it. Training (even what I can teach you at Red Chair events) will only get you so far. The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it and do it until it becomes second-nature. Experience trumps instruction.

Say it with me, out loud so the whole class can hear you: There are no shortcuts.

5. “Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Be bold. Take chances. Don’t hide. Every time you don’t speak up in a meeting, every time you let some jerk at the office take credit for your work, every time you hold off on releasing a product or green-lighting a bold campaign, you are building your house with faulty, weakened bricks.

Winning, being successful, beating the competition isn’t achieved by playing defensively. Every win is a succession of decisions that imply risk and take courage. Likewise, every failure is a succession of decisions marred by fear and cowardice. Learn this.

The same rules apply to your online presence: If you want to find your voice in the blogosphere and on the twitternets, have the courage of your convictions. Speak your mind, even if what you have to say may earn you a few frowns. It is easy to feel pressured by some well-followed “personalities” to keep your mouth shut or not speak against the grain. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Your opinion is as valuable as theirs, and your point of view just as worthy of expression. Being blackballed by a handful of self-important bloggers isn’t the end of the world. Better to know who your friends and enemies are than to live in fear of retaliation. Speak your mind. Find strength in courage.

Build your house, one courageous decision and action at a time.

6. “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.

Some folks are just happy to be there. Others are okay with being top 5. Others yet are content to be #2. Leaders don’t fit into any of these categories. They want to be #1. It’s a personality trait, nothing more. It can’t be faked or learned. You’re either this type of person or you aren’t. Bill Gates wasn’t interested in being #20, so he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs: Same story. Sir Richard Branson: idem. The great leaders of history, whether in antiquity or in our time all share a similar personality trait: #2 is not an option.

Same thing with companies and brands: Would you rather be #1 in a niche market or #3 in a broad market? Which holds the greatest value? Ask Apple where they went with that. Ask Microsoft where they went with it. It isn’t a question of which is the better choice. The question is more personal: Which is the better choice for you?

Note: Incidentally, in the world of Social Media platforms, there is no #2. You’re either #1 in your category, or you are on your way out. In this world, velocity and scale win.

7. “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.”

The competition is the hungry kid with an idea, ambition and nothing to lose. Thirty years ago, they were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Five years ago, they were Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Who’s next? Who will crush Big Advertising? Big Web? Big Print? Big Software? Big Consulting? Big Energy?

If you’re the industry leader, don’t look to your biggest competitors. Instead, look to the kids with the brains, the vision and the huevos to redefine your category and make you obsolete. Likewise, if you’re one of those kids, don’t let the big dogs intimidate you. If you have a better idea, fight for it. Make it happen. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable. Fight. The old guy playing golf with his CEO buddies every other day, he’s given up.

In the long run, my money is always on the hungry young wolf, not the fat one taking a nap in the sun.

8. “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.”

It is better to be a pioneer than a student. Go where no one has gone. Until Julius Caesar marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, it was a wild and savage land Rome feared would never be tamed. He had a vision of what could be, and he made that vision a reality.

Henry Ford had a vision. So did Walt Disney. So did the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. So did Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz (yes, I know, he wasn’t the original founder, but he was the one who made Starbucks “Starbucks”), Bill Bowerman, and Branson. Every brand of note, from the Roman Republic to The Beatles focused on creating and building, not just on learning. Learn all you want, but then do something with what you’ve learned. Contribute. Create something of value. Even if it is just a #chat, an idea, a YouTube video, a blog post, a presentation or an app. Create something. Anything.

9. Ask everything of your people, but reward them like kings.

The men who served in Julius Caesar’s legions and survived to the end retired wealthy. Never forget whose work really made you successful. Your employees, your friends, your business partners, your customers… Everyone who contributed to your success deserves more reward than you can afford. never lose sight of that. Executives who treat lowly employees like cattle are epitomes of stupidity and arrogance. In sharp contrast, executives who treat every employee with respect and gratitude are all win in my book. Strive to be the latter, and don’t skimp on rewards. Look a little further than the proverbial gold watch when trying to reward loyalty. Rise above institutional apathy. Yes you can.

Same with twitter followers and blog readers. If they buy your book, if they come see you speak, if they help you in any way, take the time to do something for them. Strive to give back more than you receive.

10. “The die is cast.”

Make decisions. Live with those decisions. It’s that simple. Once you’ve committed yourself and your business to a course of action, to a play, to a tactical path, you’re committed. The time for doubt or indecision is gone. Stay the course and brave the storm. It’s all you can do.

Leadership isn’t for everybody. It takes nerves of steel, sometimes. It’s hard on the soul.

When you fail: Accept responsibility for the failure, learn from it, dust yourself off, and try again. No need to dwell on what you can’t change. Focus on what you can change.

When you succeed: Reward your people and give them all the credit. Don’t stop and rest, though. When you’re winning is when you should keep advancing. Winning is100%  about momentum. Never forget that.

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I am not going to talk about brand management, social media, digital communications or any of the usual topics today. Instead, let’s talk about time. Your time. And to make things quick, I’ve decided to do it all on video rather than force you to read another BrandBuilder dissertation. If the video doesn’t work, here’s a link: (Click here)

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You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. 😀 (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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