Why Did Rome Fall?

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So my 6th grader and I were taking a bath together a few nights ago and he asked me to help him on a project. “Dad, if you had to boil down to two reasons why Rome fell when they were at the height of power, what would you say?”

I was freshly off of reading the news releases about our loss of signage rights to Dynetech Centre, which had been purchased by the law firm moving into the 15th floor we occupied a mere two months ago and which cost us several million to develop.  So,  I immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy.”

He said, “Really?”

I said… “Sure, Sweetie.  Because there really were only two reasons.”

“So what were they, Dad?”

“Well, first, a failure of principled discipline, which eroded internal defenses. And second, an unfortunate collision of overpowering external forces which could only have been defeated by the principled discipline which had failed.”

Needless to say, Jared wasn’t at all sure what to make of that.

He said, “Okay, Dad, start over. What you are talking about?”

“Sweetie Pie, Rome was noted, during its entire history, for its enormous internal discipline. It had initially developed internal discipline for its own defense, but had eventually used it to conquer most of the known world. As a result of that, we know Rome and the Roman civilization to this day for its incredible influence and achievements.

“At the end of the day, however, and as a result of its own complacency, its own sluggishness, its own bureaucratization, and its own unprincipled sloppiness, Rome’s internal defenses eroded to such an extent that it became a target for external forces which, sooner or later, would defeat it.

“Did you get that one, sweetie pie?”

“Maybe, Dad, so what comes next?”

“You end up with a perfect storm provoked not by coordinated attackers from the outside but by the random activity of multiple destabilizers, all of which ultimately met together at the center of the known world – Rome. Every avaricious tribe. Every invading force. Every ambitious leader.  Every free radical. Every imposter.  They all concurrently and consecutively battered down the walls of a weakened Roman civilization until they ultimately caved in.

“In earlier times, they wouldn’t have had a chance. But after years of internal degradation, the external forces were overpowering.

“Make sense, sweetie pie?

“I got it, Daddy: internal collapse in the midst of external invasion.”

Well, that was the extent of the conversation. I put Jared to bed and I started walking downstairs.

And I realized, as I was walking down, how I had pretty much already lived through a very personal Roman experience of my own.

As I continue to process what transpired at Dynetech over these horrendous two and a half years, I begin to recognize so very well that the Great Recession, as that external force has become known to businesses, was clearly an incredibly powerful invader that represented the perfect storm in so many ways.  After all, who would have conjured it?–a real estate collapse, a mortgage collapse, the demise of the financial sector, a credit freeze, escalating unemployment, and eventually all topped off by a cash strapped consumer unwilling or unable to buy virtually anything–all within a two year time frame.  Overpowering external forces indeed!

At the same time, however, what I also recognize is that there was a time in which our internal principled discipline would have defended our walls and protected the body of our citizenry in a way we were not able to do by the time the Great Recession was in its fullest fury.

I’ll publish a future blog about what that principled discipline looks like in granular terms, because it is very structured (probably more significantly than most entrepreneurs could imagine) and it held us in good stead for many years as a leader in the industries we served.  

But for today’s thought, what I want to emphasize is that as powerful as the Great Recession was, there really is no invading force powerful enough to defeat a defender in its home turf if the defender remains principled and disciplined. 

Had we not allowed our own internal discipline to loosen; had we not let our guard down, so to speak; had we not gotten sloppy in our execution; had we not thought with our hearts rather than with our minds; had we not confused the objective with the process; had we not allowed all of that to occur over the past several years–the Great Recession, as powerful as it was, would never have levied such carnage.

No matter how destabilized, the defender ultimately always has the upper-hand, so long as the defense is based on the structure and discipline of what made the defender so powerful to begin with.

It’s a lesson too late to salvage this round in the ongoing pendulum swing of life.  But it’s a lesson I won’t forget when  our walls are back up and we’re at it again…but next time, I’ll be remembering the simple lesson my bath time conversation with Jared recalled–the two reasons why the greatest civilization in the world fell.