Carthage Must Be Destroyed

Carthago delenda est.

If you’re not terribly familiar with Latin, that translates into “Carthage must be destroyed.”

I like that saying, not because I have any desire to see the old world city of Carthage destroyed, but because of who said it and how he said it.

Let me take a step back a bit.

I was reading an article today about an upcoming book by a former Facebook employee who in this excerpt talked about how the phrase was printed on posters and hung up around the Facebook campus in response to Google’s launch of Google Plus.  Mark Zuckerberg called an all-hands meeting and put the whole business on lockdown so that nobody could go home until they had worked out their plan to combat this threat had been established.

Facebook went into a frenzy of single-minded focus, like a swarm of bees defending their hive and their queen from a potential threat.

And they rallied around the phrase Zuckerberg quoted in his talk at the all-hands meeting, “Carthago delenda est” – Carthage must be destroyed.

In a few previous emails, I mentioned that I’m a fan of Shakespeare but I’ve also studied Roman history a fair bit and the quote that Zuckerberg used came from Cato the Elder.

Cato the Elder was a Roman senator, statesman and orator.  He was a staunch conservative who came from humble beginnings and he vehemently opposed the Hellenic influence that he saw creeping into Rome during his life.

Above all else, Cato was a believer in strict personal discipline and felt that the role of politics was to encourage (if not force) a strict, disciplined code of conduct on the masses – in fact, much of his political career was devoted to this.

While serving as an emissary in Carthage to arbitrate a dispute between Carthage and a neighbour he noticed the sheer wealth being accumulated by the Carthaginians and came to the conclusion that it was a threat to Rome that needed to be neutralised permanently.

Upon his return, Cato the Elder lobbied hard for Rome to send her armies to Carthage and eliminate the threat.  As a demonstration of his single-mindedness every single speech he gave upon his return from Carthage ended with the phrase, “Carthago delenda est” – Carthage must be destroyed.

Cato eventually got his way, the Romans invaded Carthage, completely destroyed it, killed or enslaved all of its citizens and ended the threat permanently.

Zuckerberg, not a great orator by any means, was able to instil in his organisation a single purpose to overcome a massive threat.  The people at Facebook changed their entire focus from “good enough” to delivering massively successful, high-quality features that could not only compete with Google Plus but were overwhelmingly better – “Google Plus delenda est.”

Reading that excerpt from the upcoming book by Antonio Garcia Martinez about his time at Facebook today was helpful for me.  It was clarifying.  I was lucky enough to know the story of Cato the Elder and his campaign against Carthage, but even if you’re not, you can appreciate the message of having a singular focus.

Casual Marketer in many ways was started as an exercise in discipline for me.  I’ve talked a few times about how distracted my writing efforts were and how much time I was spending not creating value for myself but effectively building platforms for other people with my content.  One of the underlying purposes of writing these emails every day was to enforce a discipline on myself that was ultimately in my own best interest.

That’s the thing about having personal discipline – it’s hard, but entirely worth it when you stick with it.  To quote John F Kennedy, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  You want to set goals for yourself and take on tasks that are going to stretch you out of your comfort zone and make you better.  Discipline is the bit that makes you keep going when it’s hard.

When you’re a “Casual Marketer” building your business in your spare time between your job, raising your kids or running your regular business, you’ve chosen a path that’s hard – you’ve decided to make sacrifices either overtly or tacitly.  Most people who choose to go down this road won’t succeed for a variety of reasons – some legitimate, some just through sheer lack of will.

The ones who succeed though, they all have a high level of self-discipline and a sense of purpose – they are doing what they do for a reason.

Do you know what your reason is?  Can you write it down or articulate it succinctly?  Maybe not as succinctly as “Carthago delenda est”, but ideally something not too far off.  It can be selfish in nature (“I want to make more money so I can buy a better car”) or selfless (“I want to help poor kids get an education in Africa”), it doesn’t really matter, it just has to motivate you and give you the sense of purpose.

Who is your Carthage?

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