The story of the Longbow

I’d like to thank my good friend Mike Rix for the following brilliant historical analogy. In these days where organizations and governments are determined to return to a pre covid-19 world, maybe, just maybe we need a new mindset.

When old mindsetsets need to change

This story shows the best of Thinking it Better from the English Army during the 100 Years war especially since the risks associated with failure were so high. On the flip side the French brilliantly demonstrated the antithesis of this mindset and suffered the consequences.

In 1346 the English led by Edward III were fighting in France. On Saturday 26th August, 1346 the Frankish Knights had caught the English Army at Crecy, in northern France, with a view to annihilating the English invaders. Their confidence was quite justified, since they hadn’t been beaten in battle for 300 years and were considered (particularly by themselves) to be the best fighting force that had ever existed. Heavily armoured knights on horseback vastly outnumbering the English peasant army, it would be a walk over. In fact they were so confident of success that they didn’t begin the battle ‘till 3:00 in the afternoon because they wanted to have lunch before they started.

The English had a new weapon, not tried or tested in a major battle before, their longbows. This low tech solution was all that stood before them and the most technologically advanced war machine of the day.

The result was unexpected, especially by the Frankish Knights, and probably by the English too. 10,000 French knights lost their lives to the English arrows.

The English hadn’t played by the assumed rules of engagement. This so infuriated King Philip VI of France that he complained to the Pope about the ‘un-chivalrous English tactics’.

English had shifted the paradigm of battle but alas the French mindset did not change accordingly and the whole scenario was repeated 40 years later at the battle of Poitier and famously again at the battle of Agincourt 70 years later!

It is easy to understand the mindset of the Frankish knights since they were highly successful and were continually improving their ‘technology’ with thicker armour plate and stronger horses. It is difficult to turn your back on that which had been hitherto so successful and consider alternatives which fly in the face of all your experience and learning.

So how had the English managed this? What prompted the English to risk all on the longbow? Who persuaded Edward III to break with convention? As the leader he was prepared to take the risk, one which could have cost him his life. How many leaders today are this committed to innovation?

It’s time for a new mindset. We need to be thinking it better.


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