Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Escaping Obsolete Ideas

We’re over four thousand years in the past and the King of Phrygia just died without leaving an heir or obvious successor. As the king calmly sails the river Styx to the afterlife, the people of Phrygia are at each other’s throats. 

After all, how do you now fairly decide who is the heir to the throne?

With no satisfactory answer in sight, the people decide to settle matters in the usual way of Ancient Greece, turn to the Gods for help.

The citizens of Phrygia rush to the shrine of Zeus Sabazios where the oracle tells them to crown the next man who enters the city gates riding an ox-cart.

That ox driving man turned out to be a poor peasant called Gordias. Imagine his surprise as he passed the threshold of the city and was greeted by hundreds of cheering townspeople who declared him king.

But Gordias always felt like he was destined for greatness and he embraced his new role like a pro. He instantly made plans to overhaul the city, which he humbly named Gordium after himself, and led Phyrgia to prosperity.

As thanks to the Gods, the ox-cart was made the symbol of Gordium. A specially made wooden post was placed in the center of the townsquare with Gordias’ cart tied to it using the most complex knot ever seen.

Gordias wanted to make sure nobody could ever remove the cart that proved his divine right as ruler of Phrygia.

Then a legend began that whoever undid the diabolically tangled knot would become master of Asia.

Heaps tried: sailors, weavers, athletes, mathematicians, philosophers, swindlers, all imaginable master craftsmen tried to undo the knot, but none could loosen its elaborate braids, twists and coils.

The Gordian knot stayed fastened for over a thousand years. Not until a genius conqueror and king called Alexander the Great rode his army into Gordium did the knot meet its match.

The Macedonian king closely inspected the webbed rope, gave it a few tugs and smiled. Next he drew his sword and swiftly brought it down, cutting the knot and earning the title King of Asia. 

Did Alexander cheat? Perhaps.

Did he solve the problem? Absolutely.

The moral? 

Don’t state a problem in the same way it’s posed to you. Or else you risk locking yourself into one strategy while giving up more suitable approaches.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach