History is Alive


I am frequently asked why I love history so much.  History is alive. It’s full of people and how they lived their lives.  Since we learn by observing other people, historical persons are the ultimate role models.

For example, George Washington was brilliant at projecting confidence.  The worse things got, the more he appeared calm and confident. His attitude inspired his troops to continue fighting for eight years in the Revolutionary War. Any business owner understands the importance of projecting confidence to employees, clients, and competitors. Confidence breeds success.

Another guy I’m partial to is General George Thomas, nicknamed the Rock of Chickamauga.  Why? When the entire Union line broke and scampered back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he refused to retreat and ordered his men to stop the Confederates. He turned a potential disaster into merely an embarrassing day for the Union Army.

Every business owner has experienced a version of Chickamauga when a key client cancelled a contract leaving a giant hole in the company’s bottom line or a project went hideously wrong. Successful business owners hold their nerve, trust their team and battle on to retrieve something from the mess.

History also gives us perspective. Without historical comparisons, we have a tendency to believe the challenges we face are brand new. But there truly is nothing new under the sun because human nature doesn’t change.

Take a look back at the first “world war” known as the Peloponnesian War which lasted from 431 – 404 B.C. Athens and Sparta fought across Greece, then on to North Africa, Sicily, Spain, and all Mediterranean points in between. They trashed the known world fighting for economic and political control. The war created an opportunity for the competing Persian Empire to try to conquer Europe.  It all seems a bit like Microsoft and Apple who were so busy fighting each other they failed to recognize the threat posed by Google.

The Peloponnesian War is described in wonderful detail by Thucydides. He had time to write because he was unemployed after disagreeing with his superiors about the Athenian strategy to defeat Sparta. He’s an early example of making a career transition, in his case from soldier to historian.

Thucydides tells of heroic battles and the suffering of civilians, of spies and traitors. His most memorable character is Alcibiades who sold out his home town of Athens to the Spartans, then switched sides, before pulling yet another switcheroo. Alcibiades eventually sold out all the Greeks to the Persians.

Alcibiades must have been charming because it took years for the Athenians and Spartans to stop trusting him. Today, Alcibiades would be labeled as anti-social or sociopathic. I’ll bet you’ve met an Alcibiades at some point in your career.

These few examples illustrate why I love history.  I have role models for every possible event in my life.  I can see how current challenges are the same or different than historical events and that guides my strategy on how to react.  No how-to book will ever match what I can learn from history.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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