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The Story of the Gordian Knot

Summary: “Untangle a complex problem one strand at a time.”

Let’s chat about Alexander the Great for a moment. I always liked the so-called Alexandrian solution. In summary, someone tied a section of rope into an unbelievably complex knot in a kingdom-in-need-of-a-king located in an area that is considered modern day Turkey. It was called the Gordian knot; named after an ox-cart driving peasant farmer named Gordias.

To make a long story short, it was a tough knot to unravel and the people of the kingdom declared that the first person to untie the Gordian knot would become the king of the land. A guy named Alexander came along and developed a new and unorthodox set of knot-untying rules. Rather than sticking with traditional knot-untying techniques, Alex whipped out his sword, simply cut the knot in half and declared the problem solved, added the words “the Great” to his name and took over as king of the land.

Much later in history, a boxer named Muhammad Ali used an unorthodox fighting technique called the rope-a-dope in his 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match against George Foreman. After knocking out Foreman in the eighth round, Ali loudly proclaimed that he was “the Greatest.” Alexander the Great, being dead for over 2000 years at the time, was in no position to argue with Ali’s brash one-upmanship. So it appears that throughout history, if a person does something extraordinary and unorthodox (especially related in some way to a rope), they often feel a desire to attach some sort of superlative form of the adjective “great” to their name.

Anyhow, the Alexandrian solution became a metaphor for thinking out of the box. However, while you are thinking about a thinking-out-of-the-box solution, you can work in parallel and use another strategy that often works better in a practical sense and in the real world. You can try to find one little strand of the Gordian knot-like problem and unravel it, and then another, and then another.

Think in terms of tangled up Christmas tree lights or a complex knot in your shoelaces or earbuds. The slice through it with a sword solution will not work out too well in these kinds of situations. It is better to start by unraveling one little section of the overall knot and patiently keep doing that until you get everything untangled.

Take any problem that you have been struggling with for a long time (business or personal, it does not matter), and think in terms of “is there some little piece of this overall mess I can unravel just to get started?” As you unravel more and more of the strands, the subsequent strands often are easier to unravel.

What is your biggest “workplace or personal knot?” What is the easiest thing you can do today to begin unraveling it? Why don’t you give that a try? If you are successful, that would be great wouldn’t it – perhaps even greater, or the greatest.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris


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