Stoic Strategist

Episode 58: The Stoic Strategist

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”.

Almost 2,000 years ago, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote his masterpiece, Meditations, ‘a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration’.

I believe that the philosophy he espoused, stoicism, is one that is perfectly in tune with the role of the strategist. Stoicism is not a superficially attractive or romantic quality. The stoic outwardly appears to be cold and dispassionate, lacking the enthusiasm and exuberance that draws people in. The stoic can come off as a bit of a cold fish. But consider that Marcus Aurelius also wrote to accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.

This is not a dispassionate philosophy; quite the opposite. It teaches about focusing only on the things we can control and committing to them utterly and unequivocally. This idea to accept what comes and make the best of any situation you find yourself in is perfectly suited to an industry whose hallmarks are chaos and change beyond the capability of the individual to comprehend. The idea of embracing change, of not being doctrinaire or overly ideological is one we have explored before, and it is one that Marcus Aurelius eloquently illustrated when he wrote, if someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed. He saw that regardless of what the future brought, we should not fear it, but rather face it in the same measured, stoic way we face our challenges today, or as he put it, ‘never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present‘.

We have also previously discussed the fact that in digital media, there are many ways to reach the same end, that there are many right answers, not only one. Again, Aurelius summarized this fact when he wrote that ‘everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth‘.

As the strategist, you sit in the eye of the storm, buffeted by forces outside your control. Despite this, you need to always exude a sense of calm and identify measured responses to keep the team on track in order to achieve objectives. A stoic outlook gives the strategist the perspective, the approach and the tools necessary to excel at a difficult role. Meditations is a book that every strategist should read. And if anyone ever tells you that the stoic is a boring and cold way look at the world, remind them of the words of Marcus Aurelius when he wrote to, ‘dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them‘.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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