History -Telescopes to the Future
Nowadays, if you watch or read interviews of any CEOs or top business leaders in the news media you will invariably see a question that asks which book they have recently read or are currently reading. And their obvious answers will be the names of some newfangled management book like why the moon is still round while the earth has become flat, the fifteenth leadership habit of some maverick, some new cutting-edge book about managing people, or even some fancy novel. But you will never hear any businessman say they are reading a medieval or ancient history textbook.
What? Why Should Business Leaders Read History?
Now, you may argue how will a boring textbook on history help modern business leaders run their companies. Besides, who has the time to read dull history, and who cares if some Attila the Hun plundered a village in the fourth century, the peasants invaded and plundered their monarch’s fort, or some king was beheaded by his courtiers? And why bother with what has been over and forgotten and what is the justification to study something unconnected with modern business issues?
After all, every modern guru preaches the need to look into the bright future and not look at the dark primitive past. These are typical convincing arguments but you may be surprised to know that reading and understanding your national and international history has more business benefits than the elegant advice given by modern business gurus and B-School professors.
Benefits of History
If you had thought that history was just a boring school subject that must be tolerated only to pass your dreadful exams just look at the points in its favor.
Hidden inside history lies an immense wealth of advice and real case studies that can not only help every business leader but also those who are not connected with business management. But a history book will not help any business leader if they read in the traditional way of simply memorizing events, dates, names, etc., intended to just pass a school or college exam. To extract business gold from history you need to read it from a completely different angle. And that angle is to concentrate on what mistakes our forefathers did and how you can avoid them.
There is a popular saying that history repeats itself. This is proved by the fact that one of the biggest mistakes people do is repeating the mistakes that others did. And people suffer because they ignore and avoid history. People easily fall into the same black holes that others fell into a short while ago. Or they confidently predict the future while experimenting with a sugar-coated poisonous plan that our forefathers burnt their hands with.
This is because people are unable or unwilling to read the warning signs of history visible all around us. However, if you ignore or avoid history you will end up repeating the exact mistakes that your forefathers or predecessors did along with almost identical and disastrous results. But if you read history it can give you hundreds of years of great wisdom and examples to learn from, especially what to avoid rather than what to experiment with and repeat.
Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed.’ This has proved to be true for centuries and will prove to be true forever. Except in obvious areas like technology, medicine, scientific research, etc., there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to managing people. But most businessmen and B-school gurus research and trumpet that they have discovered a revolutionary new management concept, baked fresh out of the oven, on how people can be successfully managed.
Unfortunately, they do not realize that a similar or identical one would have experimented elsewhere because they did not bother to read history. The human behavioral patterns of what is going on right now would have definitely occurred somewhere in the past.
History is not some useless stuff as most people think. History prevents you from reinventing the wheel. Albert Einstein once said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Throughout history, people have committed the same mistakes of trying to subdue people, waging wars, committing treachery, espionage, and various forms of atrocities on each other leading to the same guaranteed disastrous results as experienced earlier.
Modern humans are no different and even today you see dictators and cruel people ruling many countries and organizations. And similar crimes and follies occur inside workplaces with equivalent disastrous results. For example, in the past, kings had hordes of soldiers and slaves controlled with whips and balls/chains to increase their royal status, build mega palaces, invade other kingdoms, and chase endless greed to become the number one emperor among them.
Today companies have slave employees (minus the balls and chains) chasing astronomical productivity, competitive espionage, endless cost-cutting, hostile takeovers, exponential performance, and impractical customer satisfaction strategies to become the number one company in the market. But even with such paranoid and suffocating practices, we see fortune 500 companies frequently crumble to dust. So, what happened to all the sustainable best practices they were supposed to have been proudly following? Where did their solid foundation disappear and why did they collapse like a pack of cards?
Hence, it’s highly necessary to read history as it teaches the current generation to understand things that don’t work or never worked in the past. If you can understand history from the right perspective it can help the present business managers and executives to avoid needless and futile experimentation with people management and toxic productivity. By learning the patterns of events in history, you can recognize the repeat of the same patterns in what is going on around you today.
History will not tell you where you are going but it will tell you how you got there. What you did in the past decided the present, and what you do now will later decide the future. History offers a wealth of information about how people, societies, and even civilizations behave. History can teach you some great lessons in people management like the mistakes our ancestors did, the disastrous consequences, the fall from grace of mighty leaders and dictators, how mighty empires collapsed, and many other great ups and downs.
For example, Rome was a superpower in ancient times and had an army with the best training, the best budgets, the finest buildings, etc. But today that empire is nowhere and any history professor can explain how the Roman Empire disintegrated because its leadership did a bunch of mistakes like becoming greedy with scant regard for its citizens.
Today’s companies are no different. They become over-smart and will gladly kick the ladder (employees) that elevated the company to high levels for the sake of higher profits or share prices. Or they will unnecessarily downsize employees even when they are making good profits. They don’t realize that many experienced and knowledgeable employees and departments are like winter clothes. If you throw them away in the summer arguing and justifying that you don’t need so many clothes in your wardrobe you will end up shivering and spending more money in the winter.
History is splattered with examples of bad people management and its disastrous results. Many kings have been assassinated due to their bad people management by the very people they trusted. For example, Julius Caesar was stabbed by his trusted friend Brutus. Many kings and their sycophants have been beheaded or thrown into the dungeons for their follies. Wars have started due to abuse, criticism, and harassment.
When applied to businesses they make the same mistakes again and again, but disguise them as newer or modern management theories and learning experiences. But by reading and understanding history you can avoid repeating the same mistakes again and again. History helps you look at both the past and future at once. And you can constantly educate yourself from those who were born earlier than you and become like Janus, the Roman god who had two heads back to back to look into the future and the past at the same time.
History helps create good businesspeople and professionals, though it may not exactly define a specific job profile in the corporate world. For example, you won’t see any job advertisement in a top company seeking history professors for their management team. But studying the global past gives one the knowledge and flexibility required in many work situations.
For example, you can develop good research skills and use historical examples to design modern business plans. For example, the wisdom of Aristotle or Socrates told centuries ago are still valid for many business success and failures. Knowledge of history is an asset for a variety of work and professional situations in the modern global context. History helps in identifying, understanding, and avoiding cultural sensitivities. It provides evidence about how nations have interacted with other countries and societies in the past, and how that long-standing enmity or friendship between the countries can affect business.
So, the next time you get an urge to buy one more business management book stop and buy a history book instead.
Some Famous Quotes
History repeats itself, but in such a cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done — Sydney J. Harris
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it — George Santayana
If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience — George Bernard Shaw
History repeats itself because nobody listens the first time — Erik Qualman
The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see — Winston Churchill
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~ 🤵 About the Author — Thejendra Sreenivas was a Technology Manager in the IT industry for nearly 30 years. He is now an Author and Book Publishing Coach and helps authors to Self-Publish their books Worldwide on Amazon and Non-Amazon retailers. He has written 30+ books on various topics. Visit his online cave — www.thejendra.com for more details.
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