Think Like An Underdog
In 1915, deep in the jungles of South America, the rising conflict between two rival American fruit companies came to a head. Each desperately wanted to acquire the same five thousand acres of valuable land. However, two different locals claimed to own the deed to the plantation. In the no-man’s-land between Honduras and Guatemala, neither company was able to tell who was the rightful owner so they could buy it from them.
How they each responded to this problem was defined by their company’s organisation and ethos. One company was big and powerful, the other crafty and cunning. The first, one of the most powerful corporations in the United States: United Fruit. The second, a small upstart owned by Samuel Zemurray.
To solve the problem, United Fruit dispatched a team of high-powered lawyers. They set out in search of every file and scrap of paper in the country, ready to pay whatever it cost to win. Money, time, and resources were no object. Zemurray, the tiny, uneducated competitor, was out-matched, right? He couldn’t play their game. So he didn’t. Flexible, fluid, and defiant, he just met separately with both of the supposed owners and bought the land from each of them. He paid twice, sure, but it was over. The land was his.
Forget the rule book, settle the issue.
This is pragmatism embodied. Don’t worry about ‘the right way’, worry about the right way. This is how we get things done.
Zemurray always treated obstacles this way. Told he couldn’t build a bridge he needed across the Utila River – because government officials had been bribed by competitors to make bridges illegal – Zemurray had his engineers build two long piers instead. And in between which reached out far into the center of the river, they strung a temporary pontoon that could be assembled and deployed to connect them in a matter of hours. Railroads ran down each side of the riverbank, going in the opposite direction.
When United Fruit complained, Zemurray laughed and replied “Why, that’s no bridge. It’s just a couple of little old wharfs.” Sometimes you do it this way. Not by deploying the tactics you learned in school but adapting them to fit each and every situation.
“Any way that works – that’s the motto.”
— “The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday (Awesome book. I recommend it!)