I was asked to speak at an
entrepreneurial conference, with the charge of providing some initial
remarks to an audience of various ages, industries and
business life-cycles. The Ben-Hur Principle
resonated with me, and from the comments, it seems to
have also resonated with others. So, I want to share it with you,
for a moment.
Let me begin at the
beginning, which is to give credit where credit is due: the term "Ben-Hur"
is not my own. The term is from a novel written by
Lew Wallace. Many movie buffs consider the 1959
movie version to be one of the greatest movies of all time, to which the
director credit goes to
William Wyler. But, even better, there is a chariot race,
which many consider, apart from the movie itself, to be one of the greatest movie scenes of all time.
If you have not seen this movie, particularly for younger folk, it is
pure movie magic, and without computers; yes, real horses, real extras,
real chariots, real wheel dust.
Back to the author, Lew Wallace.
He was certainly an interesting fellow. I love this guy, because
he served others and, for better or worse as he may be judged, in fact,
he just did stuff -- a lot of stuff. Soldier in the Mexican War.
Lawyer. Illinois Senator. Union Army General
in the American Civil War. Governor of the New Mexico Territory. Negotiator with
Billy the Kid. Minister to
Turkey. President of the Court at the famous "Andersonville
Trial" (the Civil War version of the later
World War II Nuremburg Trials). And, yes, among other
accomplishments, he wrote
Ben-Hur; you know, with all that available extra time in his life.
Lew Wallace is on my Dead Guy (Gal) Lunch List.
Now, I cannot testify to all the things
such an interesting man might learn along the path of that life, but
apparently dead though he may be, by the life of his writings, he taught
me something. Something good. Something real good. I
must say it was subtle. And, I must admit to you now, that I did
not see it until I watched the 1959 version of the movie about 15 times over the
course of my life, and at the age of 50. An "aha" moment, or point
of clarity, as some people call it. Sometimes, I suppose,
things become clearer after experience permits a broader grasp of
Here it goes...
It is about the year 30 A.D.
(we know this because Jesus makes a couple of choice appearances). Rome was
the power of the day. You have heard of the
Roman Circus, right? I am not talking about a circus with
clowns, such as we know it today, nor am I talking about the
Colosseum, ala where gladiators fought. What I am talking
about is Rome's version of
NASCAR. A circular ("circ..") type of track for racing. The cars
of the time? You've got it:
I won't spoil the movie for you, so I
won't go into details.
Ben-Hur is traveling from Rome to Judea.
In his travels, he meets Sheik Ilderim. The Sheik has four
stunning white Arabian horses that he is training to race as a team in
the Roman Circus. We meet the horses for the first time observing
them on a test track where they cannot hold the turn. Every time
they gain speed, they fly off the track. Not good for a chariot
race, or NASCAR.
A bit later, the Sheik meets and
befriends Ben-Hur and invites him to supper. The Sheik introduces
his horses to Ben-Hur with the loving endearment that one might show in
introducing daughters, inviting each one into the tent by name,
introducing each with a personality summary, and then with a good night
kiss. He loves those horses, and they seem to like Ben-Hur -- you
know, with friendly snorts, nose rubs and such things. (The
horses, not daughters.)
Well, lo and behold, during the
conversation about the horses, the Sheik learns that Ben-Hur has
actually raced in the Roman Circus! "What? You've raced in the
Circus?" queries the Sheik with excitement. And, now pleading
further, "Please ride my horses, Judah Ben-Hur, and tell me why they do
not race -- as one in a team." "Well," says Ben-Hur to the Sheik, "I'm
sort of busy traveling right now. Maybe a little bit later..."
"Please," "no," "please," "um, no," "please, please, please," "well,
And, so it is that, the very next day,
Ben-Hur gets onto the chariot teamed by the four white Arabian horses.
Off they go, around the first bend, done. Nice. And, now
gaining top speed, to the second bend and, and, and... they fly off
track again, as usual.
[And here it comes, The Ben-Hur
Principle of Team-Building.]
Ben-Hur gets off of the chariot, "I know
the problem," he says. "You must tell me," cries the Sheik.
"I will," says Ben-Hur, "but, er, let me get the dust out of my eyes
first, will you please." [Actually, I added the part about the
dust in his eyes.]
"The problem," says Ben-Hur, "is that
the inside horse is the fastest horse but not as stable, and the outside
horse is stable but not as fast." "You simply have to switch the
order of the horses. Put the fast horse on the outside of the
track to carry the greater circumference of the circular track, and the
slower stable horse on the inside to provide stability to anchor the others
around the turns."
Do you see it? The Ben-Hur
Principle: Each resource must be positioned on the team, in such a
manner as to reconcile that resource's abilities with each other
resource on the team, for the purpose of achieving the team's goal.
The Ben-Hur Principle may
encapsulate what we may already know. But, such as it is with many
parables, metaphors and fables, it is the visual encapsulation of the
principle that allows what we know to resonate in our minds and keep us
on track. It is the very simplicity of the metaphor that helps us
to remember what we already know.
The team can fail, even with a group
of excellent horses. The work of the manager is in placement.
Placement. Role allocation.
The Ben-Hur Principle
helps me to take a first-step reality check when setting up a team.
My goal is not merely to have a team of excellent individuals, but to
*reconcile the talent,* one to the other, to negotiate the turns and
challenges of the business model. So, The Ben-Hur Principle
teaches that it is not necessarily the horse, but the placement and role
provided by the team manager.