055: Divide et Impera

Season Two Jan 11, 2021

You've heard this phrase before, right?

People use it in business settings to mean "let's be efficient". Or, "let's break a big project into smaller parts and get it done quickly in teams".

In the programming world,
it's also an algorithm.

But where does it come from?

And what does it mean?

"Divide and conquer" refers to an old military strategy: A way to seize power by turning one's opponents against each other. By isolating multiple factions, they become more vulnerable than a cohesive whole.

The phrase is usually traced back to a Macedonian King in ~350 BC. It's been referenced since by a wide variety of people including Napoleon, Machiavelli, and Julius Caesar.

By sowing discord and distraction, individual groups will become more susceptible to manipulation. By undermining potential alliances and spreading distrust, a larger force can gain - or maintain - a strategic advantage.  

When I discovered these historical origins, I was shocked: The phrase has nothing to do with modern project management. And everything to do with power and control.