human nature

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.

What’s Next?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / chungking

Fifty years ago, comic strip hero Dick Tracy’s famous 2-way wrist radio got upgraded to a 2-way wrist TV. Forty years ago, visionaries were talking about telephones that would fit in a shirt pocket. Instead of each home having a phone number, each person would have one. In between those dates, the country’s only telephone company introduced push-button “dialing” as an alternative to the rotary dial.

You all know the rest of the story. In many respects, what seemed like science fiction or fantasy in decades past has become a routine part of everyday modern life. The same is true in many aspects of our lives.

There are constants in life, of course. We each seek to make a difference, to be happy, to provide for ourselves and others, to smile and be smiled at, to connect with our fellow human beings. Many of our most fundamental impulses remain unchanged since the dawn of time.

So the conditions of our world are a mix of unchanging things like human nature and the sun rising in the East, and rapid change in other things. All the way back in 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler wrote about “Future Shock,” a perception of too much change in too short a period of time. If anything, the pace of change has accelerated since then.

In life, we suspect that being grounded in the enduring truths help equip us to adapt to change.

In the field of investing, we believe that understanding the unchanging aspects of human nature help us understand and deal with change. The ever-evolving landscapes of the economy, markets, companies, and technology produce constant and unpredictable changes. But no matter how different the world may seem, new changes will still produce reactions and over-reactions, fads and manias, and varying amounts of fear and greed.

We will admit it. We are entranced with the conflict between simple eternal principles and the endless complexity of the world. Making sense of it to help people in their real lives—that’s why we wake up and get to work every day. If you would like to talk to us about your situation, write or email us.