Win At All Costs


Essay by
Scott Farrell


June 2003

Chivalry in business?

Mention chivalry in business and you're likely to be met with a patient, if not condescending smile — at least, that's been my experience over the years. An executive I was speaking with recently summed up his objections to the Code of Chivalry in the corporate world like this: "In our office, we have to follow a win at all costs philosophy. We don't have time to be chivalrous."

No doubt he was imagining chivalry as some absurd, gallant ideal that would mandate never making a profit or taking customers away from a competitor. With that in mind, however, I wanted to use the opportunity to examine the difference between chivalry and winning at all costs.

"If unrestrained success is your only goal," I asked him, "does that mean you're willing to vandalize your competitors' warehouses, or threaten the family members of their top employees?"

He looked offended. "Of course not! That would be both illegal and immoral."

I continued by asking, "Do you mean that winning at all costs is an internal policy, and that your company exploits its workers, paying them minimal wages, asking them to cheat customers and follow orders blindly?"

"No, no!" he said. "Every one of our team members contributes to our success, and we want them to feel adequately compensated for their work."

Then I said, "Do you mean that in order to win at all costs you'll abandon your vendors as soon as cheaper resources become available, and that you are prepared to undercut your own distributors if it means bringing more business to your doors?"

He shook his head. "Although we expect good value, we realize that the cheapest supplier is not always the best. And our distributors know that we're working to keep them in business so they'll be committed to long-term customer care."

Finally, I asked him, "Then in your quest to win at all costs, do you assume that your competitors are incompetent, that you have nothing to fear from them, and you can ignore their efforts?"

"Absolutely not," he said. "We watch them very closely. Sometimes they are the best indication of where the market is headed."

"So, you're telling me that your method of doing business is to avoid unjust and immoral practices, recognize the debts you owe to your supporters, treat your allies with honor and good faith, and respect the challenges and opportunities represented by your competitors?"

He nodded his head, realizing that in reviewing his own practices, he had just given a good description of the Code of Chivalry.

Chivalry as a guide to values

Business experts have repeatedly drawn parallels between modern commerce and ancient warfare, from Sun Tzu to Attila the Hun to Genghis Khan. In the history of warfare, the Code of Chivalry was one of the first attempts to temper the win at all costs warrior spirit with a sense of integrity, responsibility and self-respect. Chivalry was a means of bringing stability and confidence to a world that, for centuries, had been devastated by conquest and plunder.

In the world of modern business — where numerous recent incidents have proved just how destructive unrestrained ambition can be — the Code of Chivalry provides an effective guide for honorable and ethical competition on any level of the business battlefield. Respect, duty, courage, justice and honesty should never be forsaken in order to win at all costs. Executives, entrepreneurs and employees of all types should see a reflection of themselves in the image of a knight in shining armor.


© 2003 Scott Farrell

Scott Farrell's
Chivalry Today:
Reimagining the Code of Chivalry

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