Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus by William Turner, 1829

Think Better, Faster: On the Craft of a Tactician [Vivere #3]

Polina, founder of The Profile

Tactic- actions to achieve short-term goals; acting in the moment and in the face of challenges.

The Great Tactician

In Homer’s Odyssey…

A cyclops named Polyphemus entered the cave with his sheep. He found Odysseus and his men intruding on his home.

The cyclops smashed two of them to death before he left and trapped them with a heavy rock.

At this moment, the hero of the story had two choices.

Fight the cyclops, likely leading to death, or hide and survive as long as possible.

But Odysseus, known as the great tactician, carved a new idea.

When the cyclops returned, Odysseus offered Polyphemus some wine— a drink he never had before. He enjoyed the drink until it made him drunk and fell asleep.

The men took a piece of wood with a sharp point at the end and heated it red.

They stabbed the cyclops in his only eye. He woke up in a flash of pain, screaming, and disoriented.

But the problem wasn’t subduing Polyphemus. They needed him to clear the exit.

But how?

They could start with his sheep.

Every morning the cyclops would let the animals out of the cave. This time, he had to do it blindly. Polyphemus knew that Odysseus and his men wanted to escape so he made sure to be careful. He began to feel each sheep on the back as they passed through the exit.

Odysseus found his way around it.

The hero tied each man to the bottom of the sheep passing through.

One by one, Odysseus and his men left the cave, escorted unknowingly by the creature himself.

Cyclops Homer's Odyssey | Memento Vivere
Odysseus addresses Cyclops in Homer’s Odyssey

The Best Solution Might Not Be the Obvious

Let’s focus our attention on the man who kept failing.

Steward Butterfield started Game Neverending. It would be a massive multi-player game.

They began creating the tools to make it possible but after two years the project was shelved. Those tools would be the foundation of the most famous professional image-sharing site, Flickr.

Fast forward, and Butterfield wanted to break the gaming industry again.

He partnered up with his friends from Flickr and created Tiny Speck, another endeavor for a multi-player game.

This too failed but something came out of it that would change industries and virtual work forever.

The tools they used for communication would be the basis of a major pivot from gaming. It would be called Slack, the number one communications and productivity tool used across hundreds of industries.

Stewart Butterfield is a great tactician.

He did not have a strategy, with goals and milestones planned out for years to come.

What he did have, however, were the skills needed to think fast and act appropriately to survive.

His tactical moves and ability to change course based on obstacles and opportunities allowed him to found two of some of the most influential companies in internet history.

How We Can Become Tacticians

Guide to Tactical Decisions | Memento Vivere
Use this for a guide to tactical decisions

No doubt developing your skill as a tactician can change outcomes in your life but it’s easier said than done.

We can learn from the great examples in our lives, such as Odysseus and Stewart Butterfield.

Both had these common traits…

  1. They identified their reality
  2. They took a step back to analyze it
  3. They reviewed the options presented to them
  4. They created new options by thinking outside of the box
  5. They boldly acted on their choice

On Vivere, we explore living a full and balanced life. To live a full life, we act boldly in the face of challenges. By becoming better tacticians, we can think better and faster for a more fulfilling life.

Tweet by John Hernandez

TThis essay is part of the series, Vivere: On Living a Full and Balanced Life.

Originally published on February 7th, 2021.