Archive for May 2nd, 2007

Each month, I write about 22,000 words of articles about free and open source software. It’s an inexhaustible subject, so my problem is usually winnowing possible subjects rather than scrambling to find them. However, every now and then I like to do something offbeat, especially for the IT Manager’s Journal, a sister site of Linux.com where most of my articles appear. A case in point is “Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia and the challenges of large projects.”

I’ve long been fascinated and slightly scornful of the tendency in business books to dramatize corporate life by comparison to great historical figures. For example, in recent decades, editions of The Book of Five Rings have encouraged executives to think of themselves as samurai warriors while Shackleton’s Way has made the Antarctic explorer an example of leadership for the corporate world. Similarly, Laurence Olivier’s son Richard gives seminars in which he suggests that managers emulate Henry V and other figures from Shakespeare. Hearing these comparisons, I’m always struck by the self-aggrandizement in them.

Yet, at the same time, as a confirmed Jungian, I also realize the importance of myths to sustain people. I only wish that office drudges had equal inspiration. But I suppose that European serfdom or slavery in the Roman tin mines doesn’t have the same resonance in most people’s minds. The closest I’ve seen is the Corporate Dominatrix, which, while amusing, isn’t very inspirational — at least, not for me.

Anyway, in the middle of April, I was reading Adam Zamoyski’s Moscow 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March, which is probably the best book on the subject that I have read. I was also – as I usually am in the middle of the month – worrying about meeting my quota of articles. What struck me as the main strength of Zamoyski’s book was his analysis of Napoleon’s mistakes and problems, and, remembering the historical trend in business books, I saw a partial solution to my quota-fretting. One Friday night, after submitting another article, the idea for a business-related article based on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia came to me, and I sat down and began the article.

If there is a muse of online journalism, she was surely with me that night, because my points came ready-formed into my mind, and in a couple of hours, I had almost two thousand words, an unexpected and very welcome gift to an anxious writer.

I always try for a minimal level of professionalism in my articles, but, inevitably, I’m prouder of some than others. This one, as you can probably tell, is one of the ones that I’m especially proud of. It’s not often that I can work my love of history and biography into my daily work, and I like to think I’ve said something useful, too.

As I say at the end of the article, if someone with Napoleon’s leadership qualities can blunder so badly, anyone can. So why not learn from him? And, if people who read the article do screw up, maybe they’ll feel better for thinking themselves in the company of Napoleon.

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