5 Life Lessons from YouTube in the year 1066
People have been telling stories with pictures since early man painted scenes of animal hunts on cave walls. These stories often recorded military victories, such as in Egyptian hieroglyphs and battle tableaus featuring chariot riding pharaohs, Assyrian palace bas-reliefs depicting monumental sieges, and the war columns of the Roman emperors Trajan and Marcus Aurelius. These were the YouTubes of their day.
Following the MPLS+SDN+NFV conference in Paris last month (see my blog here), I traveled to Normandy in northern France, where I viewed what is perhaps the “par excellence” example of pictorial storytelling prior to the advent of electronic media. I am talking about the Bayeux Tapestry. Extending 70 meters horizontally in length, this wall-hanging portrays the events leading up to, and including, the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where William the Conqueror defeated Harold Godwinson to rule as king of England.
So what does this have to do with a telecom blog? Well, besides its exquisite detail and fascinating historical insights, if we look more deeply into the tapestry’s story, we can extract life lessons that continue to apply to our world today. Here are five of them, as they appear sequentially in the tapestry.
- Get it in writing. Both William and Harold had claims to the English throne. The previous childless king, Edward the Confessor, supposedly had promised it to William, and when Harold visited William several years prior to their battle, the tapestry shows him swearing an oath on holy relics supposedly supporting this claim. Yet on his deathbed, Edward supposedly told Harold the crown was his. Notice all the ‘supposedlies’. Verbal promises are nice, but it makes things a whole lot easier when you get it in writing.
- Build alliances. A seasoned warrior like William knew that launching a successful invasion of England was not going to be easy. As a complex and expensive undertaking he was going to need help. First he secured a letter from the Pope recognizing his claim. This gave William the moral high ground – “even God recognizes my claim”, and a papal banner to carry into battle. Then he secured financial and material support from other French lords, for promises of future titles and English land of course. Only with solid backing in place did William then proceed with his invasion plans.
- Timing is everything. William’s invasion fleet of about 1000 ships was ready in August 1066. The tapestry shows beautifully rich scenes of stocking the boats. William was itching to go, but troublesome weather governing the English Channel prevented him. Losing ships in a storm would have ended the venture before it started. William needed to maximize his chances, so he gritted his teeth and waited until the time was right. He finally sailed in late September.
- Visible leadership. The largest portion of the tapestry is devoted to the battle itself, which was epic by medieval standards. In an era when most battles were decided in less than an hour the Battle of Hastings raged on for nine hours. William had three horses killed from beneath him. At one point it was reported that William was killed, which would have spelled the end for the Normans. The tapestry shows William pulling back his helmet to reveal his face and muster his troops. Today the best business leaders are equally visible to their employees.
- A little luck. As dusk approached and with heavy losses on both sides, the battle was still undecided. The English shield wall continued to resist the Norman cavalry charges. But the Normans also had a large force of archers, and one lucky arrow from an anonymous archer struck Harold in the eye killing him. This finally broke the English resistance leading to a Norman victory and a major turning point in English and European history. Sometimes it is the small and lucky things.
You can see the Bayeux Tapestry for yourself at http://www.bayeuxmuseum.com/.