When Alexander the Great decided that the island of Tyre was between him and the total domination of the known world, you might think the question he and his land based army would ask would be, how do you conquer an island? But Alexander, perhaps that’s why we call him Great, reshaped the problem and asked a completely different question.
In his 2004 book, “The Wisdom of Alexander the Great“, Lance Kurke, Ph.D. uses the leadership lessons of this historical figure to challenge how we think about seemingly intractable problems.
You see old Alex had pretty much conquered most of the civilized world as he made his way around the Mediterranean coast, but he was frustrated by the pesky Persian navy who continually challenged his supply lines. The Persian navy needed fresh water, however and had to return to port every few days. Alexander figured if he could control the water supply, he could control the Persian navy. So Alexander flexed the muscles of his powerful army and took control of all the Persian navy sources of fresh water. All that is, except the fresh water available on the island of Tyre (A site now occupied by the village of Şūr, located 45 miles south of Beirut). The island was about a kilometer off shore and was beyond his reach.
The question most of us would ask would be “how do you conquer an island” beyond the reach of your armaments? But Alexander the Great changed the perspective and asked the question:
How do you fill in the sea?
So from one intractable problem, Alexander created another challenging, but not intractable, problem. The island finally fell, in 332 BC, to the Macedonian conqueror who filled in the sea and constructed a causeway connecting the island to the shore as part of his seven-month siege. It turns out that Alexander was in a bad mood upon arrival and reportedly slaughtered a quarter of the islands inhabitants.
So when faced with what seems like an intractable problem, try to shift your perspective and ask a different question. It may not be any easier to solve, but it may open up an entire new world for you.