Alexander the Great – The Master of Problem Solving

Elvis Elvis

Alexander the great, King of Macedonia was driven by two overwhelming ambitions. He wanted to conquer the world and to amass all knowledge. His tutor had been “the master of the men who know”, the great Aristotle. Aristotle was the intellectual giant of his era, who himself had summarised the knowledge of 5th century Athens in his own works.

Alexander’s Hero’s

Aristotle inspired Alexander the Great with a desire for all knowledge. On his conquests the works of Homer, especially the Iliad, further inspired Alexander the Great with its hero, Achilles who became Alexander’s role model.

With these twin inspirations Alexander the Great set out to conquer the world and to conquer the world of knowledge. On his conquests Alexander the Great took with him a team of scientists who sent back research material to Aristotle in Greece.

Thus inspired with an insatiable curiosity and burning with heroism Alexander the Great developed determination and courage.

Problem solver extraordinaire

The greatest strategy we can learn from Alexander the Great is how to solve problems. He was able to reorganise and redefine a problem to make it solvable. Confronted with the problem of taming the magnificent but untameable horse Bucephalus, he approached the problem from the horse’s point of view. Noticing that the horse was scared of its own shadow he turned the horse to face the sun. Once he was able to mount the horse he was able to tame it.

Alexander the Great – The Master of Problem Solving

He has taught us to turn the problem around, approach it from a different angle, and look at it from another point of view.

Cutting the Gordian Knot

The most extraordinary example of Alexander’s problem-solving abilities is in the now famous story of the Gordian Knot:

The father of gods had ordained that when it came time for the people to select a king, they must choose the first person to ride up to the temple of Zeus in a wagon. Gordius innocently fulfilled the oracle and was made king.

Alexander the Great – The Master of Problem Solving

One of his first acts was to dedicate his wagon to Zeus and to place it near the temple, the yoke tied to the pole by an intricate knot of cornel bark. Another oracle declared that anyone who succeeded in untying the knot would be the conqueror of all Asia. The knot stayed tied until the arrival of Alexander the Great. Then confronted with an apparently insoluble problem Alexander the Great applied a bold and unconventional solution by cutting the knot with his sword instead of untying it. Zeus honoured his initiative by making the prophecy come true. Alexander the Great did indeed become the conqueror of all Asia.

The Gordian Knot Metaphor

The Gordian Knot is now a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein quotes (German born American Physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity. Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. 1879- 1955)

Alexander the Great – The Master of Problem Solving

Today we have phrases that indicate this type of thinking. Lateral thinking, thinking outside the box, creative thinking..

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy quotes (American 35th US President [1961-63], [1917- 1963])

How I applied The Gordian Knot Principle

Whenever you are confronted with difficulties, situations that seem impossible to solve, remember that using the Gordian Knot Principle it may often be possible to cut right through them. For example, if you have started a project that isn’t getting anywhere a bold stroke may be to cut your losses and redirect your energies to a new project. I have done this several times in my business career. I have started businesses that seemed promising at the beginning but for one reason or another have just not worked.

It takes courage and a bold stroke to abandon something that you have sweated over and have had such hopes for. However, by removing the problem completely, it frees you up to go on to more productive projects.

“The experienced mountain climber is not intimidated by a mountain — he is inspired by it. The persistent winner is not discouraged by a problem — he is challenged by it. Mountains are created to be conquered; adversities are designed to be defeated; problems are sent to be solved. It is better to master one mountain than a thousand foothills.”

William Arthur Ward (American dedicated scholar, author, editor, pastor and teacher)