History informs us and refers us to a context other than our own. We look to it to provide insight into something happening in the present and future. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance and yet almost all of our predictions come from formal or informal historical record. Life is a series of educated, inspired and intuited choices and yet we analyze our randomness for pattern. We need to get comfortable with how accidental decisions can be and establish more confidence in defining a future in our context. Who better to predict or create your future than you?
There is a lot to learn from past experience â€“ if there is enough in common context. There are endless factors as to why things happened they way they did. Often the context is radically complicated. My guess is that war historians face this often. The context of a given war is a scope that can be appreciated but only broadly learned from. Specific battles however, can be abstracted as patterns for future engagements. Executives at large companies often play a game of â€œbig boyâ€ chess working agendas in the marketplace that may take five to ten years to deliver. They balance their need for immediate returns with the clever game of creating future business. Watched too closely an employee may think a high level executive is missing both opportunities â€“ it is all about context!
Looking for inspiration outside of your specific domain is an excellent way to ensure you are not repeating yourself. My dad always said, if you always do what you have always done, then you will always get what you have always gotten. History is an informing resource not a road map â€“ the context is often too different to offer the play book most people are looking for. By reaching to other domains, you create interdisciplinary connections and innovation.
A few years ago the IT world was drunk with the concept of mashups, where a web hacker type would take the services exposed by more than one application and assemble it in a meaningful way. You will remember this phase because the most profound examples had content plotted on a geographic map. One had to wonder, is the radical new approach the introduction of extendible, shareable map services or the introduction of a new programming paradigm? Mashups permeated popular culture to the point that at the time a hot new show Glee used it as a creative way to create new music for the cast to perform – a music mashup. Mr. Schuester, the Glee club faculty member, would mix two songs together and challenge the students to do the same. The IT world has moved onto other booze, but the Glee Empire found a new way of introducing more related, varied and original content into their production. YouTube is filled with content mash. Similar to the desirability of adopting a mutt at the pound, I quickly take the derivative over the original. Mutts embody diversity. Derivative choices often have the benefit of more information. Let the thousand flowers bloom, pick one and when it dies, pick another – if you are paying attention you will get better. Some people get really good at picking the right ones, but rest assured most are bad. The key is not losing what was at the heart of the original. It is all about context. Ever look at Seuratâ€™s La Grande Jatte up close and in person?
Seek out diversity in both your references and the level at which you examine. Past experience might let you question what you see – objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. In the 1999 block buster The Matrix, Neo speaks to a little boy that apparently knows how to bend spoons.
Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
Quote from IMDB.
Sometimes you get what you always got because you canâ€™t see you are repeating yourself. Stop acting drunk and disorderly and get yourself a pint of diversity.