The Riddle of Steel

The riddle of steel is the central theme of Conan the Barbarian, a 1982 film by director John Milius which was the breakthrough role of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is loosely based on Robert E. Howard's Conan stories. When considering a name for a new type of business software product, it occurred to me that there are many parallels with this story.

Business software design and implementations are complex and are undertaken in a hostile and competitive business environment. Many have wrestled with the questions of how to achieve the best outcomes using business software. I believe the riddle of steel can provide us some insight to these questions.

Strength through adversity

In the beginning, Conan is taught by his father that strength will be gained by adversity, and his early life bears this out. Conan's village is massacred by a snake cult lead by religious zealot Thulsa Doom. He is brutally enslaved for many years but instead of desparing and succumbing to the abuse, he works harder than any other and it builds up his body. He is then sold as a gladiator and trained to fight with a sword. Through his hard work and resilience, his skill as a champion gladiator is recognised and he rises to dominate the arena. He earns the respect of his owner and is freed in return.

The superficial conclusion is that, in the same way that steel is made strong by the application of fire and force, people are made strong by overcoming adversity.

To apply this philosophy to software, the best software is built on past experience. It is tested and refined in practice, and adapted to meet real world needs. Bugs are found and ironed out; new features are developed; and user interfaces, documentation and support resources are improved based on feedback.

Flesh is stronger than steel

Conan seeks revenge against the snake cult and has some success but fails due to the domination their leader has attained over his fanatical followers. Conan's companions assist him but Thulsa Doom has so many dedicated followers that no amount of strength or skill can overcome them. Conan is captured and Thulsa Doom explains that he attacked his village in pursuit of steel when he was young, but has since learned that flesh is stronger than steel. More suffering ensues for Conan until he is rescued by his friends, but the love of his life is killed in the process.

Software which has been refined for many years may be effective, but the main reason I have seen implementations fall short of their potential is limited utilisation. If the staff of a business use every available feature to improve their daily tasks, then more of the work that has gone into building and refining that software is unlocked. Thus, software is only effective in proportion to how well and fully the staff of a business use it.

Motivation matters as much as capability

Conan despairs after his second defeat and personal loss, but he is inspired by his god, Crom, to try yet again. He is now driven by the burning need for revenge, but not controlled by it. He uses all of his willpower, allies and skills to sneak into home of the cult and defeat Thulsa Doom, executing him in front of his followers to break the spell over them, thus dispersing the cult.

The viewer is left to conclude that skills and allies are important, but what drives success is commitment and dedication to the task. Thus the riddle of steel is revealed to be not just about steel itself, the skill of the wielder, or the people that support them. It is about all of this but also, most importantly, the will to apply yourself to the task at hand.

Even if the software is good and the staff are willing, the results are not as good as they could be unless management support and encourage staff to utilise the software to enhance the business. This top-down support and commitment is the key to unlocking the potential that business software can deliver. A common demonstration of this is when a business keeps track of their clients but doesn't do much with that data.



With Steel CRM, we plan to make functionality which enables organisations to benefit by implementing practical functionality with a simple web-based user interface. We will constantly refine and develop the software and support materials in response to client requests. We will also provide advice and assistance to our clients in finding ways to improve their work practices using the software.

Our development paths will be based upon what clients want to achieve in their business practices and database expansion will follow as only as absolutely required. Our plan is to enable you to do more with less.

We look forward to exploring the riddle of steel with you.

Crom be with you!




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