The Logical and Illogical in Business

There is a movie that I like very much. It’s Stagecoach (1939) directed by one of my favorite directors John Ford. The storyline is quite simple: a stagecoach journey becomes complicated when Apache Indians start attacking it during the trip.

There is a story about this movie that I like even more. When John Ford was asked why in the climactic chase scene, the Indians didn’t simply shoot the horses to stop the stagecoach, director John Ford replied, “Because that would have been the end of the movie.” In addition, Apaches would have stolen the stagecoach horses because, in their culture, horses were valuable when calculating a warrior’s worth. Storyline, in this case, is only a frame for a story about psychology of characters – passengers on a stagecoach in the wild, wild west.

When I started working in business I was sure that everything over there must be very logical and very rational. Sure, you do have some logic and rules in art too, but it’s a much more irrational area of life. But business? It should be logical, shouldn’t it?

But pretty soon I realized two very important things.

Internally: Do not center your time and energy around events and their logic. Focus on participants of those events and their logic. Psychology of characters. (check my post About Demons)

Externally: Learn a lot about your Apache if you want to drive your coach to the very end of the journey.

Now, to be totally honest: I’m telling you this and giving advice, but with the first one I’m still struggling. It’s human nature to follow certain logic in order to protect sanity and integrity. So, if you are frequently exposed to events that oppose your logic, then you have to invest a lot of effort to understand the participants, their motivation and to put all pieces together into one (for you) logical story.

Stagecoach-1939

Two challenges are present here: after some time spent in a place that works against any logic, you can start thinking and acting the same way. Quite quickly actually, you can find yourself justifying things that you would judge heavily in the recent past.  And second one – it’s emotionally exhausting. Then you start questioning yourself, your own thinking, the purpose of your acts etc. Quite often this can be a vicious circle that is very hard to get out of. There is no universal advice how to overcome this situation. But, one useful thing for me was frequent reality check with the people I trust and with the people who are outside of the vicious circle. Neutral, with a fresh view and without any personal interest within the situation.

After fighting this internal battle, the real battle starts. Because, there are always some Apache groups chasing you or looking toward you from the top of a rocky mountain. Of course, I’m not going to preach now about the “Knowing your enemy” thing. There are many books about it. You can probably pay for an online military course about it as well. But, what I would like to add to the first part of this story is the fact that an enemy also has his/her own internal struggles and things that are not very logical as well. Or at least not logical for you. If you were to analyze the Apache Indians you would probably say: they are great at riding horses, they are very good with arrows and guns, fighting to the very end etc. But would you say they wouldn’t kill a horse because it is represents great value in their culture? The same way, you should check what is important for your business competitors, for example, a part from obvious things: market share, profit or management bonus. Is it in their company culture to have sustainable growth instead of big hits toward competition? Do they have a CEO that is facing a resignation so he/she is ready for desperate moves and measures just to save his/her ass? Are they ready to make illegal moves in order to win?

Understanding business is quite easy for people with average intelligence and skills. Understanding people in business is a totally different game. But cheers to that! That’s what makes it interesting, dramatic and fun. Just like a good movie!

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