During the 18th century the royal courts of Europe were starved for exciting and fresh entertainment formats. The staid choral recital, piano concerto, plays and opera had been standard fare in all of the great palaces for centuries. Each court strove to offer something more modern, more cutting edge and contemporary.

In 1769 the Empress of Austria, Maria Therese invited a member of her entourage named Baron Wolfgang Von Kempelen to attend a conjuring show. Conjuring was a form of the emerging art of magic presentations. After the show was completed, Baron Von Kempelen announced loudly that the show was boring and he could do better.

The Empress took the Baron up on his declaration. She issued a challenge, which the Baron accepted, to return in six months with a completely new show. The Baron began to assemble the program that would, for 85 years, beguile and amaze audiences in Europe, America and South America.

The unveiling of “the Turk”, a mechanical chess playing robot, created an immediate sensation. A wooden man dressed in turban and Oriental garb was seated behind a square box with an ornate chessboard affixed to the top. Von Kempelen rotated the box, opening the doors on each side, revealing a complex series of gears, bearings and clock-like movements very intricately crafted. Turning a giant key, he would activate the mechanism and the Turk was ready to play. The Baron chose an ardent chess-playing member of the court as the Turk’s first opponent. The Turk played very fast, very decisively and easily vanquished his initial rival, much to the amazement of the court.

After the Empress died, her successor Emperor Joseph arranged for Baron Von Kempelen to tour Europe with the amazing Turk. The chess-playing robot was a sensation everywhere. He played all comers and almost never lost. He played Benjamin Franklin, considered a Grand Master player, in Paris and easily beat the great American.

The Turk’s most famous match was played in 1799 against Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was at the height of his power and was considered the most brilliant military, governmental and political strategist of his age. He prepared for his match with the Turk as if preparing for the invasion of Egypt. He studied the robot’s strategies, pace of play and the aggressive tactics the machine had utilized in besting the best chess players in all of Europe where chess was played as a non-lethal substitute for warfare.

Napoleon settled on a disruptive strategy. He decided to attack the Turk’s lack of emotion, human instinct and reasoning. After all wasn’t he playing a machine? As the greatly anticipated match began, Napoleon began to negotiate alternative rules of play, slow the agreed pace of play (very fast, no withdrawal of moves, etc.) and make moves outside the parameters of the rules of chess. The Turk became furious (showing emotion), frustration (weakness) and swept away the chess pieces from the board (physical anger) all betraying emotions a machine could not possibly possess. This was an 18th century form of rope a dope.

The match with Napoleon exposed the Turk as a tiny human, an expert chess player, manipulating the movement arm of the wooden dummy to make chess moves through a series of hinges. The matches had to be played quickly owing to the severe confines of the box in which the tiny player was concealed.

Napoleon’s reputation for shrewd tactics, incisiveness and creativity was greatly embellished by quickly spreading the news of the results of the chess match with the Turk. His reputation for making unpredictable moves was reinforced and made his opponents even more wary of his potential for ruthless behavior. This was a man that was to be feared and his tactics would become more creative, cunning and novel. The capacity to innovate and create the aura of a leader to be feared and dreaded became Napoleon’s greatest asset as a warrior and Emperor of France.

Another great warrior from even more distant times was Alexander the Great. A warrior at the age of 14, general at 18, and king of tiny Macedonia at 20, Alexander conquered most of the known world before his untimely death at the age of 32. He is considered the greatest military tactician of all time.

Alexander lived during the fourth century before Christ, at a time when mysticism, myth and superstitions were an intricate part of daily life. The puzzle of the Gordian Knot was considered one of the world’s great mysteries. Outside of the Temple of Zeus, at the city of Gordus, there was an oxcart with an unusually complicated knot attached to the hitch. The world famous Gordian Knot was comprised of densely packed comer bark and there was no visible beginning or end to the maze of the knot. The priests and oracles of that day claimed that Zeus had promised that whoever could undo the knot would rule the world.

Princes, tyrants and dreamers came from all over the world to test their ability against the amazingly complex Gordian Knot. None had ever succeeded in loosening the tangled orb. Much as Napoleon approached the chess match with the Turk, Alexander planned strategy for his encounter with the Knot was as if entering his famous military campaign against King Darius and the Persians.

He spent several hours pondering the Gordian Knot. Alexander knew that success in loosening the Gordian Knot would trumpet his reputation as the world’s greatest king and military strategist. It would further motivate his army and sow fear in his enemies. Then, with a violent suddenness, Alexander grabbed a great axe and swung mightily. Hitting the immense Gordian knot directly in the center, it fell open like a pear. The gnarled bulk of the knot was severed and fell to the ground freeing the oxcart for the first time in centuries.

Alexander, like Napoleon many centuries later, saw a problem that had vexed men for many years. He took a creative, innovative and, in reality, the simplest approach to the task. The puzzle of the Gordian Knot did not come accompanied with a fixed set of rules that needed to be followed in order to claim success: just remove the knot from the oxcart. The simplicity of the task was shrouded in mystery, legend and the proximity of immense power and riches. Surely no such reward could be achieved so simply! Where was the beginning and end of the knot? Alexander understood that the conventional approaches to the problem, followed for centuries by all others attempting to untie the knot, was not relevant or of any import.

Alexander the Great said that his greatest victory was his success at solving the puzzle of the Gordian Knot. This achievement confirmed for the whole world that this man was a gifted, clever and an outside of the box thinker (a term certainly not utilized at the time of Alexander the Great). Successful entrepreneurs need to develop this same skill set as creative problem solvers, addressing insatiable market and consumer need for novel solutions and utility features to answer today’s problems and opportunities.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.