The outlook appeared hopeless for France early on in World War 1. Soldiers and citizens were being killed on their home turf by the thousands, french infrastructure was destroyed en masse, and land was being seized by a foreign foe. The German army was barreling down on the French capital, and a rout appeared imminent. The French, it was feared, would be under German rule in days. As the Germans made their way toward Paris, about 50 miles away, the citizenry in the Marne region was in full fledge panic…
They didn’t know it then, but the French people were about to get a big helping hand from an unlikely source: Parisian taxi drivers.
Cab drivers of Paris believed, due to their novel transportation capabilities, they could help sway the battle of the Marne after a pep talk from a famous French general.
General Joffre’s strategy was to transport thousands of troops from Paris by utilizing the cabbies’ infamous driving skills, new technology (the internal combustion engine vehicle), and innocuous appearance, to swing the battle of the Marne in France’s favour.
You see, internal combustion engine vehicles were a new thing back then. They were viewed as cutting-edge technology but unreliable. In 1914, cars needed near-perfect driving conditions, were tricky to operate, and frequently broke down. They weren’t considered reliable in a war when trekking down dirt roads with potholes and bomb divots was common. During WWI, horses were the preferred mode of transportation, especially around the battlefield…
Nevertheless, Parisian taxi drivers had a reputation for being fast and aggressive drivers. They were comfortable with the new technology, perhaps more so than anyone else on the planet. And more troops were needed on the battlefield in Marne A.S.A.P., or France’s sovereignty would be lost.
General Joffre commandeered hundreds of Parisian taxi drivers to transport roughly 6,000 troops from Paris to Marne in a never before used military tactic. Horses would have taken too long, and the taxi drivers, with their new technology, were considered vital if France was to win. Joffre and all of France needed more troops on the front line, and they needed them quickly.
The civilian taxi drivers took four soldiers each and made the 50-mile journey in two days. Transporting 6,000 troops 50 miles in 48 hours was extremely quick for that time, and it made a huge difference, allowing France to conduct a critical counter-offensive. The Allies won that key battle, marking a turning point in WWI.
This war tactic of transporting troops via taxis was unorthodox, to say the least. Leveraging civilians with new and unreliable technology is a wild idea, especially back then when the primary mode of transportation was horse-drawn vehicles. But the french were in a pickle, and they took a risk by leveraging something new. It helped save their country.
We don’t like to change as entrepreneurs when things are going well. Ride the working plan… I think we are like this because we intimately understand how hard we had to grind to achieve that successful strategy. There were many failures to get to that point, so why change?
But the world of commerce is evolving rapidly today… our mantra should be to routinely try/deploy new technologies and innovations. Continual growth, like it or not, requires continual change.
It’s worth mentioning that by World War II, every country utilized the internal combustion engine, and horse-drawn vehicles were archaic. The leverage, or advantage, the French experienced by using taxis was gone. However, by World War II, the Allies’ new advantage was their technological advancement in industrial capacity (manufacturing), innovative fighter jets, and supreme intelligence-gathering capabilities. Continual growth and success require continual change…
Leveraging new applications and technologies can change the game for entrepreneurs. I advocate getting on ‘trends’ early, whether new social or advertising platforms, content technologies, etc. The early days of a ‘trend’ provide the most significant leverage for your business.
With technology, particularly software, advancing at a feverish pace, you have to try new things and do so with a sense of urgency. You’ll have to tinker.
No matter how good things are for your business today, adopting new technologies into your growth plan is vital to your long-term success.