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Narrative helps us use history appropriately

Posted by  Mark Schenk —August 11, 2007
Filed in Collaboration

Matt Moore picks up on Shawn’s recent post about the relevance of history and gives some good guidelines for appropriate use of history. Matt’s post reminded me of a HBR IdeaCast with Paul Saffo about effective forecasting. He says one of the big mistakes forecasters make is to use history for support (justification) rather than for illumination (understanding). He uses the example of the Iraq War, where the Bush administration and senior Pentagon officials studiously avoided looking at the Vietnam War by their own admission: “we lost that one – there is nothing to learn from it”. In effect, they cherry-picked history for the things that matched their preconceptions and desired results. This is the road to ruin. I loved this quote in the podcast:

Too often we use history like a drunk uses a lamp-post – for support rather than illumination.

As Matt points out, appropriate use of narrative helps us to avoid these issues because it focuses on the concrete and the particular, rather than the idealistic.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

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