Sherlock Holmes on Strategy

Source: Google ImagesI am an avid fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most well known fictional character... Sherlock Holmes. In many ways, Holmes was a genius and he is arguably the greatest (fictional) detective that has ever lived. What made Holmes so brilliant? In his first appearance, Sherlock Holmes reveals what I believe to be one of the keys to his success. The following is a quote when Watson expresses his astonishment at Holmes' lack of knowledge that the earth travels around the sun: 

"You appear to be astonished," he (Holmes) said, smiling at my (Watson) expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."

"To forget it!"

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

"But the Solar System!" I protested.

"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

(Taken from: A Study in Scarlet, Chapter 2 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

There is a very famous quote in the business world that goes like this, "The first law of strategy is sacrifice." Sherlock Holmes observed this law so strictly that he was able to become a truly brilliant detective because of it. I understand that Holmes is fictional; however, the lesson learned from the quote above is one that can be applied to all facets of life... especially business. 

In order to be truly successful, find what you are very good at doing... and do that, nothing else. Simplicity is key here. I find a good test is to see whether you can pick a company and describe to someone what exactly that company is about in three words or less. I think you'll find it very easy to describe the great companies because they've already figured out what they do best... and odds are they haven't stopped doing it. You may argue that any business can be described in three words or less and that this test is merely an exercise in creativity; however, the intention is not to come up with a three word slogan. Rather, the three words should actually explain what fundamentally drives the business. 

Final thoughts: Think about the idea of sacrifice and the idea of making trade-offs. These principles can be applied to your own life just as easily as they can be to any business. Let me leave you with a quote from another hero of mine ... 

“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” - Steve Jobs.