So, I just finished reading this great book on Genghis Khan (Genghis Khan and the making of the Modern World - by Jack Weatherford)
Before I started, I had this perception of this guy, who epitomised cruelty, plunder and pillage. But as I read it, I realised that, unlike other nobleman, who would spare the opposing nobleman but kill the soldiers, Genghis Khan gave the soldiers amnesty (if they were willing and had not betrayed their ruler earlier), killed the opposing ruler and his family.
This practice gave him an ongoing addition of loyal soldiers while probably making him the ultimate bad guy in history - since history very often is written from a ruler/ruling society perspective.
After reading the book, I am amazed by this man and the way he built his empire. Here's why:
1. He built the largest geographical empire in the history ever - from Vietnam to Hungary; from Siberia to India; from Korea to the Balkans; from China to Baghdad across Afghanistan; and till Indus. Twice as much as any other empire in history.
2. With a Mongol population of less than a million - and hence, with just around 100,000 warriors, he ruled over nearly 12 million.
3. For thousands of years, Mongol and other ethnic tribes in the steppes had been fighting. Genghis Khan united all of them and appointed himself the "Great Khan".
4. He "united the people, created an alphabet, wrote the constitution, established universal religious freedom, invented a new system of warfare...opened roads of commerce in a free-trade zone that stretched across continents" (from the book by Jack Weatherford).
5. He united the dozen Slavic regions into one large Russian state and created modern day China from the remnants of the Sung dynasty.
6. His empire lasted for another 150 years. His descendants ruled empires in Russia, Turkey, India, China and Persia.
7. The Moghuls in India are related to him - though originally they are Turks. Genghis Khan himself did not enter India as they found the country oppressively hot and the humidity loosened the tight bowstring, thereby reducing their key competitive advantage: Horseback warriors moving very quickly and shooting arrows very accurately.
While the cruelty, pillage and plunder has been emphasised by many historians including Voltaire, there are many key aspects of the "Genghis Khan Way" that have probably not been emphasised. Here goes my shot at summarising those:
1. He promoted people in his tribes based on merit, loyalty and achievement - and not based on birth.
2. He lowered taxes for everyone and abolished them for doctors, teachers, priests and educational institutions.
3. He established a regular census and an international postal system.
4. He created an international law and recognised the ultimate supreme law of the Eternal Blue Sky over all people. He granted religious freedom to all but demanded total loyalty from conquered subjects of all religions.
5. He created a free-trade zone across the continent and ensured safe passage by eliminating bandits and pirates.
6. He instituted the novel practice of granting diplomatic immunity for all ambassadors and envoys, including hostile nations.
7. While at war, there was no scope for negotiations on an order. But the decision to go to war as well as many other key decisions were taken via a (relatively) democratic process called the "khuriltai" (council) that included folks from the various tribes/clans.
8. He ensured that the "loot" from any city they captured was shared systematically - and that the families of the fallen soldiers got a fair share. This inspired loyalty.
9. He embraced local technology and expertise. By combining the gunpowder, casting technology and the rocket, he created the modern cannon. Early enemies thought the Khan had brought fire-breathing dragons along with him.
10. His team travelled light, fast and lived off the land. They also used whatever they found to create the equipment they needed to fight. For this, they led with an Engineering corp that could innovate based on what is available. For this reason, most rulers who fought him expected his army to show up a week or two after the day when they suddenly showed up!
11. His last ruling descendant, Alim Khan, emir of Bukhara, remained in power in Uzbekistan till 1920. Genghis Khan ruled from 1206 to 1227 AD. For 700 years, his dynasty ruled some part of the world.
And he did this without inventing any new technology. Just by his ability to organise people - at war and during peaceful times. And you do not see any monument built by him because his tribe lived in "gers" - tents with an inner structure and covered with felt cloth. And wherever he went, he focused on getting the "loot" as well as the expertise. Not building monuments that would reduce his ability to move quickly.
So, here's my attempt at how to build a business "The Genghis Khan Way":
1. Be fast and focused.
2. Don't build structures that hinder rapid movement.
3. Promote based on merit. Not on privilege or birth.
4. Don't always attack. Retreat as a strategy makes the enemy overconfident and lower their guard.
5. Use the element of surprise. Try something never done before.
6. Unite warring factions. Make people work as a team. Create a network of small teams.
7. Demand absolute loyalty to the cause. Be ruthless with folks who are not.
8. Let individual beliefs prosper as long as loyalty to the cause is assured.
9. Seek out folks who are experts in their field and get them to solve your problems.
10. You don't have to invent a new technology to win. Seek out existing technologies and synthesize them for your goals.
11. Be generous with your team. Take care of their families.
And don't worry about how history will judge you. Do what you think is right.