In 1532, Francisco Pizarro along with 106 foot-soldiers and 62 horsemen found themselves in the city of Cajamarca in the Sierra of northern Peru. They were there to meet with Atahualpa, the ruler of the Inca Empire. The problem? Atahualpa brought 80,000 warriors with him to the party and he wasn’t in a conciliatory mood. Seems that the Spanish reputation for conquest and plunder had preceded them and Atahualpa wasn’t having any of it. So when the Inca’s arrived en mass at the city walls, the day before the meeting, Pizarro was forced to contemplate his options:

1. Turn tail and try and get away. 2. Hope that he could broker a deal that preserved their lives. 3. Do something audacious.

Pizarro opted for the latter.

First, he told his men his plan would unfold as events played out the next day – all he asked was that they be bold and courageous. Then he hid his foot-soldiers and horsemen in the stone buildings that lined the square in the middle of the city. The next day he waited until Atahualpa and approximately 6,000 warriors, attendants and ranking chiefs riding on litters had filed through the small entrances and crammed into the town square.

A brief dialog ensued. It did not go well, and Atahualpa rose on his litter and began shouting orders --which the Spanish interrupted were preparatory for an attack. Pizarro gave the order and his horsemen and foot-soldier came rushing out of the buildings and attacked the mass of Incas in the square. The suddenness and brutality of the attack panicked the crowed warriors. They began to press together and try and escape through the small entrances at the end of the square. Needless to say, they were easy targets for the lances and swords of the Spaniards. The conquistadors wreaked havoc among the warriors, destroyed the easily identifiable leaders and then captured Atahualpa himself. The battle spread outside the walls and at the end of the day close to 6,000 Incas were dead and the Spanish did not lose a single man! In a word, it was a slaughter.

So what can the entrepreneur and business owner learn from Pizarro and the battle of Cajamarca?

  • The size and apparent strength of the competition cannot always be the deciding factor. 500 to 1 are not always losing odds!
  • Understand the value of your key differentiators. The Spanish had steel weapons, a couple of cannons and most importantly war horses with skilled and experienced horsemen.
  • Take advantage of flaws in your competitor’s strategy. The Inca’s believed that their overwhelming superiority in numbers would win the day. They were so confident that their generals, chiefs and leaders all rode on litters up front in the battle line. It was a strategy that cost them dearly.
  • Be audacious! Humming and hawing and waiting for the stars to align is not a winning strategy. When faced with opportunity…GO FOR IT!

So in the battles of business and commerce remember the words of Karl Von Clausewitz:

“If the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them in spite of all obstacles.”

Here’s to AUDACITY!