Ancient Advice For Modern Business

Niccolò Machiavelli lived in the late 1400’s in Florence Italy. He was a true renaissance man who has been called the father of modern political science. He was a historian, politician, humanist, writer, diplomat and philosopher.  He was also the author of Il Principe which was translated into English many years ago and is still widely available electronically and in hard copy as The Prince.

Although Machiavelli was “characterized by a duplicitous interpersonal style, a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and personal gain1” (and this description is quite complementary compared to some of the other things written about him), I was curious about his writing as it is often quoted in modern business literature.

So, I recently spent some time reading The Prince and discovered that it was similar to the torture we were subjected to in high school when we were forced to read Shakespeare!

Besides the old English prose, there was a lot in the text which I didn’t agree with. However, there are some interesting points that I think apply to today’s business.

  • Chapter 8 – If your business requires some tough changes and actions, take them all at once rather than spread out over time. It is best to avoid “death by a thousand cuts.” Morale is bad enough after a hard change in an organization and it is only made worse by spreading these changes out over time.
  • Chapter 8 – If your business needs a number of “positive” improvements, spread them out over time as the people impacted will see a stream of continuous, positive improvements. This strategy is the opposite of a negative change strategy. By spreading these positive changes out over time, the organization has a chance to change and adapt before taking on a new change. It is also wise to celebrate the positive change after it has been successfully implemented.
  • Chapter 10 – Always have adequate contingencies on hand to deal with any emergency that may come up. This applies to cash, inventory, floor space, leadership bandwidth or any other resource that is critical in your business that can be constrained.
  • Chapter 12 – Don’t hire too many contractors and be careful with contractors in lead roles as they typically put themselves first rather than the putting the business first. You can read more about this one in a blog post I wrote titled 9 Keys to Successfully Managing Contractors in Your Organization.

Although I wouldn’t read this book again, I do think the four points listed above are quite important from a modern business perspective. Business leaders need to manage change carefully in their organizations, they must strategically manage resources and they need to ensure that their use of contractors is handled carefully. Make sure you apply this ancient advice to your modern business!

Which of the principles listed above do you need to apply in your business?


With all the cataclysmic change in or society right now, leadership has become the single most important skill for success in business.Robin Sharma

1Quote taken from Wikipedia


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Watch for the upcoming release of my two new books: 12 Steps to Business Transformation and The Thinking Business System

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