Erwin Rommel North Africa Campaign


  • “The great German general Erwin Rommel once made a distinction between a gamble and a risk. Both cases involve an action with only a chance of success, a chance that is heightened by acting with boldness. The difference is that with risk, if you lose, you can recover: your reputation will suffer no long term damage, your resources will not be depleted, and you can return to you’re your original position with acceptable losses. With a gamble, on the other hand, defeat can lead to a slew of problems that are likely to spiral out of control…If you encountered difficulties in a gamble, it becomes harder to pull out – you realise that the stakes are too high; you cannot afford to lose. So you try harder to rescue the situation, often making it worse and sinking deeper into the hole that you cannot get out of…Taking risks is essential; gambling is foolhardy.” – 33 Strategies of War


Risk takers embrace failure. The possibility of failure. The probability of failure (whatever the measure of it). And they incorporate it into their decisions and actions. In fact, the General’s distinction echoes Eric Reis’ 2nd principle of his ‘5 Whys’…Survivability.

Gamblers pay no heed to failure. Leaders without Management are merely gamblers. They pat themselves on their back for their vaunted Leadership, but without the essential ingredient of Management, they are as brittle as steel without carbon. Enrons of the world.

Some detractors talked down the leadership that Obama executed when giving the go ahead for the Bin Laden mission, but that sort of risk taking decision making is exactly the heart of the job. Making big decisions that could have global ramifications. It’s not the speeches or the dinners. It’s not even the policies, since Congress controls much more of those through budget allocation and law making. It’s taking risks, not gambles.