What History Can Teach Us About Business

Collaborative post – may contain affiliate links

The old adage ‘business moves quickly’ is true. But it brings its past lessons along for the ride. There is no other way to learn if something is going to work or not then just by doing it. Exchange rates, technology, our ability to travel wherever we like at the drop of a hat, those things we take for granted. But they were hard forged by many men, business and otherwise, before us.

“the pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.” – Justin Trudeau

And that is quite something to think about. The lessons from the men and women who have been in business for years, sometimes whole generations of skill passed down through the family. Others are taught in schools, universities, and colleges. Both Ivy League and Community.

The books that teach us theory were written in the time where that theory was new. And, many years later, we find ourselves using them for reference.

Products To Market

Something that we now have access to that we didn’t merely 20 years ago is a raft of information. We can find anything we want. From how cheese was first invented to how many people are How Many WW2 Veterans are Still Alive? There is a lot for us to learn. So when we are building our market research, looking for case studies to support our theories or debunk others – it’s there. Learning how people first took certain products to market and comparing that with now – it’s pretty amazing. Now we can simply set up a Facebook channel and have images of our products online.

The road to success was more difficult, now we are fortunate that even with a small product line, we can make a relatively good living only selling online.


We can often use past financial certainties to predict future impact. When we are putting together our business plans, and the financial forecast to take to the bank – we always use previous sales to indicate where we think the future will take us. In specific markets, you can predict rises and falls by looking at years of numbers.

The most significant impact on business has rarely been about new products or technologies – instead, they have been about the development of prices.

When farmers suffer lousy crop years, or there is a weather anomaly that impacts what they produce – there is typically less of that product. What happens then is the price will rise in the future – impacting other industries, and the costs will get passed on to the consumer. This might not be in the same quarter that the initial disaster was, it might be months later – sometimes years.


Isn’t always best. Sometimes the person who is first to market, or the first with a new technology suffers a colossal flop. They don’t always get it right. New products are in production right this moment – many of which are an updated, better tested, forward stride of what came before. They say that is your first product was perfect then you waited too long.

But perhaps it should be if your first product was perfect you learned from the mistakes of others who came before you.


There are brands that many of us love today, that started out a shadow of what they are today. They knew then, and it still holds true now, it is about perception. Great painters and poets turn people into ‘god’ like figures with words and images. So that is now how a person might refer to them – rather than who and what they actually were. Artists in modern times might be found in the graphics department and the PR department. The craft brands into what they want you to see. Looking at the past of brand giants, and seeing how they manipulated what they were doing, and even the color of their logos. In fact, JP Morgan Chase, for example, was founded in 1799 and was initially The Manhattan Group. Through mergers and wise investments, it is thriving under a name we are familiar with now JP Morgan Chase.


People now have the term ‘storyteller’ in their LinkedIn profiles. And for some it is a too fluffy term, others it is a subtle nod in how modern communications work. But Storytellers are an integral part of many businesses. It is a creative and emotive way to get consumers to ‘feel’ something about your brand. And in doing so, they are more likely to spend money – with you.

In terms of history, it would be remiss not to mention Shakespeare – for some the ultimate storyteller. Mark Twain who captures humor so elegantly, Keats who pressed and pulls on your heartstrings. They led the way, without knowing or meaning to, to make words matter.

The now matter in such a way that the communications team can sculpt and mold quantitative and qualitative data into something easy to digest at a 9am meeting.

Stories, or any type of communication, is witty, it’s strategic, it links up your audience with your brand and products. But it wouldn’t have been possible without artists and creators who paved the way for the creative story.

Connecting The Dots

Of course, not everything will make sense when lined up next to your business. But there will be many records about companies that have come before you. The mistakes they made, the financials, and in some cases, what cause them to collapse. If you can extract the relevant information, you can future proof your business using the history of others.

Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him – Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In general, it is essential to understand that the grooves that businesses, dating back to the time cargo was transported via ships taking months, are important. You can link economic issues, housing booms, bank collapse, and breakthrough technology to the anchor points of the past. And in doing so, you will have a richer, more in-depth understanding of not only your own business but that of others too.

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