First, address weakness

In planning how to achieve its strategic objectives, an organisation should first consider its own weaknesses, as these will likely prevent it executing its strategy successfully.

In the late 12th/early 13th century, an illiterate nomad boy who had been cast out from his own society, grew up to create the largest land empire that has ever existed. Whilst popularly considered a bloodthirsty savage, it has become clear that he was in fact a consummate strategist. This was Temujin, later known as Genghis Khan, who lived from 1162 to 1227 (for context, in England this was the reign of Henry II, through those of his sons Richard the Lionheart and John, and the early part of the reign of Henry’s grandson, Henry III).

After eventually assembling a following, Genghis Khan realised that Mongol society could achieve nothing owing to its cultural weaknesses: the Mongol tribe was riven by factionalism between clans which were themselves splintered and fragmented, meaning there was perpetual infighting. Genghis realised that the clan system needed to be swept away and he replaced it with a decimal system.

The tumen was a unit of 10,000 people which had various decimal sub-units including the minqun (1,000). Everyone was assigned to a minqun. These units worked across clans rather like houses cut across years in some schools. Then, Genghis took one son from the head of each minqun for the keshig – his personal bodyguard that numbered 10,000. The keshig were drilled in the idea of meritocracy and loyalty to the khan not the clan.

He realised that this sort of change can alienate people if implemented too quickly so it was wrapped in some folk mythology and introduced over twenty years or so. However, addressing this societal weakness was an absolutely necessary precursor to establishing an empire that stretched from Korea to Poland, including China, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Data Sources: “Genghis Khan, the man who conquered the world” – Frank McLynn; “The Silk Roads” – Peter Frankopan; “Pocket History of the World” – H.G. Wells

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