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  • Ryan Combe

What Ulysses S. Grant taught me about business.

In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant came to a startling realization. The strategies he had learned at West Point and as a Quarter Master in the Mexican-American War weren’t working. Up until this point, American armies would move into an area, establish a camp where all the rations and supplies were stored, and then only move as far or as fast as they could without risking the exposure of the supply camp. These traditional tactics of war had American armies moving at a snail’s pace across unfamiliar terrain while they chased a faster enemy to one fortified position after another. General Grant knew that if the U.S. was going to end the war sometime in the next decade, he would have to figure out a way to fight faster.

Managing an army of 40,000+ troops is no easy task. Can you imagine the complexities of feeding, housing, and clothing that many soldiers? Not to mention caring for the sick and wounded. And Grant was a master at caring for his men. He could enter a camp, open supply lines, and restore order within hours. But he was about to ask his men to do something that hadn’t been done before. The next day, his troops would load up with 4 days rations and chase the enemy. Rations for troops and feed for animals would be scavenged along the way. As long as Grant’s army could move fast enough, enemy troops wouldn’t have a chance to destroy supplies as they traveled and U.S. troops could live off the land and stay in constant pursuit. How did this gamble pay off for Grant? The short answer, he won the war.

I’ve thought about General Grant a lot lately. I’m fortunate to spend nearly every day talking and working with entrepreneurs and what I learn from the most successful business owners is that you have to keep moving. Just as Grant realized that he wasn’t going to win the war by staying close to his supply camps, I’ve realized it’s hard to win if you’re set on keeping your comfort zone close. Sometimes you have to pack a few things in your bag, put your head down, and move forward as fast as you can with the faith that you’ll pick up enough along the way to survive.

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