October 21st marked the 217th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. If it seems an odd moment in history for a creative agency to commemorate, bear with me. This pivotal sea fight provides lessons for anyone in business today.
Why did Nelson win? Well, as with all good historical questions there are myriad possible answers. For me, it starts with the man himself: Nelson’s creative genius. He conducted naval warfare in a way that no one had done before. Rather than lining up alongside the opposing fleet, he went straight at them and broke their lines and their morale.
But there is more to the victory than the creative spark that says “be bold and do things differently”.
Arguably the victory comes down to that other great Englishman, Samuel Pepys. In the time of Charles II, more than 150 years before the battle was fought, he helped sow the seeds of success. Pepys was hugely instrumental in professionalising the navy. Indeed, in the 17th century it was referred to, slightly disparagingly, as a ‘trade’, a craft to be mastered.
But this professional approach to people management and processes was critical. In the British navy, to rise up the ranks you could not rely (not purely, at least) on patronage. There were exams to be passed to make it from midshipman to lieutenant and the glories that lay above. Nelson himself kept a weather log every day he was at sea, right up until the day he died off the coast of Spain. He knew the shifting seascape on which he was operating like a true professional.
And his ships were professionally fitted out and maintained, too. They came from naval dockyards at Portsmouth and Chatham, which were arguably the standard bearers of the industrial revolution – production lines that meant the navy was constantly in a state of readiness. And these ships themselves were operated superbly. The British side took its gunnery seriously, able to fire three broadsides in as many minutes against an opposition that could barely manage one broadside in four minutes. That is a crucial differentiator: Nelson’s fleet was on top of the basic processes of battle.
And then of course there were the sailors themselves, who were managed professionally. On the morning of the battle they were arguably the healthiest people in the kingdom. Not just fit from training, but healthy from attention that preserved them from disease and ailments such as scurvy. (Nelson personally invested in lemon juice to ensure that his crews were hale and hearty.)
This is not a history essay and I could go on and on, but as my team starts work on a fabulous new piece of business for a client based in the US, I find the lessons of Trafalgar stick in my mind.
Creative genius is critical, but such genius can only be delivered by a team that is professional and entirely on top of the processes that allow creativity to flourish.
If you’d like to learn about how Wardour can help with your creative campaigns, pop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to have a chat.
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