Monday, October 8, 2012

Business Lessons From History

Harry Truman stated, "The only new thing in the world is the history that you don't know." Truman spent many years studying the history of those who preceded him. His study paid off. Truman today is regarded as one of America's greatest Presidents. The reason history is important is because we live in a cause-and-effect universe. Similar choices produce similar results at the individual (micro) level and at the national (macro) level. History is the story of choices made, and the results of those choices. LESSON ONE: Look For What Worked And What Didn't Work, And Why You can use history like a case study in business school. Example: Mark Twain became a partner in a publishing company, Webster & Co., which published the " Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant." Twain also obtained the rights to Pope Leo III's authorized biography. The first book became a best seller. The second sold poorly. Both publications seemed like good ideas. Twain assumed that purchasing the Pope's biography would be required reading for American Catholics. It wasn't. At that time many working-class Irish and German Catholics couldn't read and those who could had little discretionary income for purchasing books. Grant's memoirs became a literary and financial triumph because it was written by a popular President who had just died, it provided an insider's account of the Civil War, which was a fascinating topic for millions, and it was beautifully written. (See Fred Kaplan, "The Singular Mark Twain." NY: 2003, Doubleday, pp. 422, 423)
LESSON TWO: There Is Magic In Thinking Big Ted Turner is the biggest-thinking individual I have ever known personally. He literally changed the world with CNN. Changing the world is exactly what he intended to do. I was an on-air host and producer at TBS when CNN was being planned. But I had no idea how big Ted was thinking. And where did Ted Turner get his inspiration? From history. One of Turner's favorite characters as a youth was Alexander the Great, who is reported to have wept because there were no more worlds left for him to conquer. An in-depth study of history can raise your aspirations. When you discover what others have been able to accomplish under adverse conditions and often with few advantages, you may hear a voice inside that says to you, "I can do something significant too." "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." The quote is from Daniel H. Burnham. Here's a thumbnail sketch of the man behind the quote. Burnham, who's the subject of Erik Larson's beautifully written new book "The Devil In The White City," was the man who made the Chicago World's Fair happen. He was Director of Works, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893. Burnham and his partner John Wellborn Root designed some of Chicago's earliest skyscrapers. His plan for Chicago was used for many years, and is considered a classic example of city planning. The book "Time Tactics of Very Successful People" contains an entire section on how high achievers make plans. For information about obtaining this book, go to LINCOLN'S LOG Lincoln still influences decisions. Christie Hefner, chairman and chief executive, Playboy Enterprises, recently told a New York Times writer that she had learned an invaluable leadership lesson from Lincoln. Here is a quote from that interview: "In leadership, it isn't about what you say; it's about what the other person hears. If you articulate well, like Lincoln, you have a tendency to think: 'I've made myself clear.' But the point is, Lincoln realizes, what did the other person hear?" Lincoln is generally thought of as a politician, which he was, but his vocation was the law. He served about 1500 days as President and 23 years as a lawyer. During that time he tried approximately 5000 cases, an average of about 200 a year. In the huge Eight Judicial Circuit of Central Illinois, Lincoln had the largest single caseload. During his career, Lincoln was involved in 15 murder cases. Of those, four men were found not guilty (one by reason of insanity), two were indicted but not prosecuted, one escaped during trial, six were convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter, and only two were found guilty and sentenced to hang. (Lincoln Legal Briefs, July-September 1996, No. 39)
A quaint note has survived from one of Lincoln's civil cases in the 1850s. "If you settle I will charge nothing for what I have done, and thank you to boot. By settling you will likely get your money sooner, and with much less trouble and expense." (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Assn., Vol 16, No. 2, pp. 4, 5) Lincoln understood that compromise is necessary in everyday life. "Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can," he wrote in a lecture for lawyers. "Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser--in fees, and expenses, and waste of time." Learn about how Lincoln communicated from the recently released DVD "Lincoln On Communication." It is widely used as an instructional manual in leadership and communication programs, but it also is valuable for self-study. It comes with an instructor's guide. For information about obtaining this valuable resource, go to Another Lincoln resource is the book "The Words Lincoln Lived By." For information go to The book is available as a spoken-word audiocassette. For information, to Quantity prices are available. One of our readers ordered 200 copies to give to customers and prospects. This article is excerpts from The Achievement Digest
(For a complimentary subscription, go to and follow the prompts.)
Gene Griessman, Ph.D. Editor and Publisher
Gene Griessman, Ph.D. is editor-in-chief of The Achievement []--and is an executive coach and a much-sought after public speaker for conventions, conferences, and retreats. He has interviewed some of the most famous people in the world asking the question: “What makes people great?”
His list includes Ronald Reagan, Ray Charles, David Rockefeller, Sandra Day O’Connor, Jack Nicklaus, Hank Aaron, Ted Turner, Julie Andrews, Aaron Copland, Jack Lemmon, Billy Joel, and Tennessee Williams and many others.
Griessman often appears on television and radio, and his award-winning programs have aired on WCNN and TBS. For years he was host of “Up Close” on TBS, the SuperStation founded by Ted Turner.
He has written and co-authored seven books, plus a one-man play on Abraham Lincoln. He has performed twice at historic Ford’s Theatre and at the Lincoln Memorial.
His book “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” was featured in Reader’s Digest and is now in its 24th printing. He is also author of “The Words Lincoln Lived By” and “The Inspirational Words of Abraham Lincoln.” His latest CD is entitled “99 Ways to Get More Out Of Every Day” and his latest DVD is “Abraham Lincoln on Communication.”
He has taught at the College of William and Mary, North Carolina State University, Auburn University, and Georgia Tech. He has served as a Fulbright professor at the national graduate university of Pakistan and as a visiting researcher at the National Agrarian University of Peru and the University of New South Wales in Australia.

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