wall street journal

NEITHER HERE NOR THERE

photo shows gold key in a lock hole

The secrets to success aren’t locked in the past, but they also aren’t waiting to be revealed in some crystal ball. History and context have plenty to teach us, and we ought to prepare as best we can for the future.

But success depends on our ability to move among the past, present, and future. That’s the key.

Imagine if we relied solely on the past. Human tendency leads us to believe current trends will continue. We are masters at spotting patterns and weaving details into coherent tapestries. (Those are the moves that kept us alive when our main job was to avoid predators and find sustenance.)

Today our brains try to do the same thing—to a fault, sometimes. Economic information surrounds us, and we want to find the story in it quickly. The brain wants to spot the pattern and react. When we learn that a company is finding some early success, for example, we want to conclude, “It’s a rocket ship, look at it go!”

Understanding the current trajectory is important, but the patterns of history are especially useful. Every age has fallen prey to some sort of mania. Tulips in 16th century Holland? Tech stocks in the 1990s? Not such different moments. There’s an edge in both knowing the history and being able to apply its lessons.

But what if that’s all we have, the wisdom of history? Well, we miss the big turning points, those moments of departure. We have to understand why and when a change might occur. The future will not be like the past: a proactive approach may keep us ahead of the pack.

In business, even when our past methods and processes have served you and us well, the world keeps spinning: we can expect change, which means we’d do well to keep an eye on potential opportunities, bargains, and possibilities.

My education includes a degree in history. When I was in college and developed a growing interest in business, I spent time on my own in the campus library with The Wall Street Journal and The Journal of Commerce. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s tough to say which has been more valuable to clients—the history studies or the business reading.

How we got here and where we’re going are two different conversations. So the secrets to success are neither here nor there—literally. They’re in the wisdom in between, and we have to keep perspective.

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