2014 is the 500th anniversary of the creation of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, which can be seen as one of the first management handbooks. Project Eye sees Machiavelli as a kind of early management consultant who spent most of his time doing various consultancy and interim management jobs for Italian city-states.

Like many consultants he spent the enforced leisure between gigs writing books and articles, which helped to drum up new business. Like many consultants today he did not get a very good press. Indeed he was treated by some as ‘old Nick’, a creation of the devil.

Is old Nick of any relevance today? One of the things that he discusses is ‘fortune’ which really refers to a combination of uncertainty and opportunity.

He compares fortune to ‘one of those violent rivers which, when they are enraged, flood the plains, tear down trees and buildings, wash soil from one place to deposit it in another’. He then says, ‘...although such is their nature, it does not follow that when they are flowing gently one cannot take precautions, constructing dykes and embankments so that when the water is in flood they would keep to one channel or their impetus be less wild and dangerous’.

This is what we would call today a risk reduction strategy. Some do not seem to have learnt much about this over the intervening half a millennium.

Machiavelli goes on to argue for a flexible approach to planning. As circumstances change then what has worked in the past may not continue to pay off. He contrasts those who proceed with caution with those who quickly get stuck in. (Project Eye wonders whether this corresponds in some way to those who espouse the waterfall approach to projects and those who swear by agile).The ones who will be successful are those whose approach is most appropriate to the matter at hand - and that will vary.

Old Nick recommended that, if in doubt, getting stuck in was better than being cautious, because he said - being a male, and Latin and this being the sixteenth century - that fortune was like a woman, and women preferred men who were ardent to those who were circumspect.

(The quotations above from 'The Prince' are from George Bull’s translation for Penguin Classics.)