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The Gordian Knot

For people the world over, the Gordian Knot represents the difficult, the intractable and often the insolvable problem. Academics, consultants and management gurus trivialize business problems by calling them "challenges." This softer word is supposed to motivate plebeians and keep them happily working. Business is war. Victory comes through struggle. It requires cunning and guile and superior strategy. Only the best thinkers deserve the spoils of this modern war we call "business."

In ancient Macedonia thinking was much the same as it is today. Little kingdoms fought bitterly for their lands. Pretenders rose and fell. No one had vision. None had a plan. All was struggle. Except for one–one gained his rule easily.

He was Midas, the poor homeowner. Day by day Midas struggled just to get by. Each day was a "challenge" for Midas. He lived in a marshy area of Asia Minor then called Phrygia. Lore has it that years of civil unrest and aimless wandering of the Phrygians had led the elders to call a meeting of the high council to decide which warring faction would rule next. An ancient oracle had foretold that a man with a waggon would eventually come and end their constant quarreling. Midas wandered into town with his ox-cart while the high council met, discussing the oracle’s prediction. The oracle’s prediction had come true. Midas was appointed king.

As a reminder of his good fortune, to thank the gods for his rule, and to celebrate the end of aimless wandering for the Phrygians, Midas erected a shrine and dedicated his waggon to Zeus. Instead of being yoked to an ox, Midas placed his waggon in the center of the acropolis yoked to a pole with a large knot. Curiously, the knot was an intricate and complex Turkish knot, having no ends exposed. Hundreds of tightly interwoven thongs of cornel-bark made the knot an impressive centerpiece for the shrine. There it remained as an important symbol for the Phrygians.

Month after month the bark hardened, and stories grew up around the shrine. It was eventually moved and housed near the temple of Zeus Basileus in an ancient city called Gordium, ruled by Midas’ father Gordius. Gordius, being the proud father that he was, encouraged the lore about his son’s now famous shrine. People speculated as to its purpose. Most regarded it as a curious puzzle. Eventually, an oracle foretold that whoever loosed the Gordian Knot would lord over the whole of Asia. The lore grew and grew.

Over the years people living near Gordium looked upon their puzzle relic with great pride. It became quite a tourist attraction and generated lots of revenue for local business. Residents considered it the duty of every wanderer to visit their shrine and attempt to solve their puzzle. They regarded it as extremely unlucky for visitors to leave their city without trying to loose the knot.

No one knows how many visitors attempted the puzzle of the Gordian Knot. One thing is certain. Only one man solved it. We know him as Alexander The Great. He did go on to conquer the world and rule all of Asia. Alexander considered his victory over the Gordian Knot the most decisive battle he ever fought.

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