historical perspective

The History of the Future

© Can Stock Photo / Tasfoto

One might say that the study of History as a formal endeavor began 2,400 years ago. Herodotus, the so-called Father of History, sought “to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time” in his chronicles of the Peloponnesian wars. Herodotus used perspective, context, and narrative to relate the fruits of his inquiries.

These same techniques are the foundation of our work. Facts and data come at us as if from a fire hose, particularly in the digital age. Perspective and context help us determine what is significant and pertinent; narrative is how disparate events and trends and facts can be woven into an understandable story.

The future will be different from the past; the next decade will not be like the last decade. So how does history fit into understanding the future?

First, some processes of change seem to be universal, even though the particulars change. For example, the future may include an energy revolution in which solar technology and battery storage combine to usher in unparalleled access to cheaper energy. But water power and steam power and petroleum are simply earlier examples of energy revolutions which also ushered in unparalleled access to cheaper energy. Same song, new verse.

Second, many times what seems to be entirely novel is truly not. After 9/11 a client told us “never before have we been this fearful and afraid.” The same client, as an elementary teacher, had coached young children how to get under their school desks and cover up to mitigate damage from nuclear war. Remembering the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis helped keep the events of 9/11 in perspective.

Third, human nature persists through every age. History provides a rich tapestry of behavior in action. Thinking about investments, the Tulip Mania in 16th century Holland and the South Sea Bubble in the 18th century provided many clues to the growth mania and technology bubble of the late 1990’s. Those who knew this history, and applied the knowledge properly, had an edge.

My education includes a History degree. When I developed a greater interest in business as an underclassman, I read the Wall Street Journal and the Journal of Commerce every day in the campus library. Not wishing to extend my college years by changing majors, I persisted in the study of History. Now, I would be hard pressed to say which has been more valuable to clients —the reading in the library, or the History degree.

Clients, if you would like to discuss this or any other topic, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Times Have Never Been So Tough!

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Jetrel

As humans, we’re generally self-centered by nature. We sometimes have an exaggerated sense of our own importance.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with this. We happen to think that enlightened self-interest, with the understanding that the best way to make ourselves better off is through mutually beneficial cooperation, is an excellent principle to live our lives by. But sometimes it pays to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Our experience of the present century is one of turmoil. We’ve seen terrorist attacks of unprecedented scale, the biggest recession in a century, extremist political movements everywhere from the third world to the first world, terrifying epidemics, wars, natural disasters—the list goes on and on. In our egotism, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we must be living through the greatest crisis in human history.

In fact, we’re so stuck in the here and now of our lives that we’re willing to ignore evidence from our own lived experience—many of us have actually lived through just as many troubles before! The recessions of the 70s saw higher unemployment, lower growth, and vastly more inflation all while the Cold War raged on in the background. We know the 2008 crash was painful, but compared to lines at the gas station and 20% inflation things don’t seem so bad.

And yet, those of us who came of age during those troubled times still have nothing to complain about. Think of how our grumbling about gas prices must have sounded to the generation before us! They lived through the Depression and the rise of fascism, bled on the beaches of Normandy and watched the Iron Curtain descend. They saw a hundred thousand souls go up in nuclear fire and millions more die in the concentration camps.

Those that came before them had it no easier, either. The fact that the Great War’s casualties took place on the battlefield rather than in bombing campaigns and death camps would have been little solace to towns that lost an entire generation of young men, butchered by unprecedented machines of war and chemical weapons so terrible that not even the Nazis would stoop to using them.

Going back further there’s an almost infinite number of crises in human history we can look back to. Everyone thinks they’ve got troubles, and by and large they’re right. But as preoccupied as we are with our own troubles, we should strive to keep them in perspective. As it turns out, we have a once-in-a-generation crisis about once a generation. As a civilization we’ve gone through a lot of generations and a lot of crises and still kept going.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.