It was Kierkegaard who said, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." It was a skeptical entrepreneur who said, "Spare me the philosophical quotes that have nothing to do with running a business."
Skeptics, be warned: If you bypass Scuttle Your Ships Before Advancing . . . And Other Lessons From History on Leadership and Change for Today's Managers (Oxford University Press, $19.95 cloth), you're missing out on an opportunity to learn from the mistakes--and achievements--of some of history's most prominent figures.
Yes, it may sound like a bit of a stretch to proffer France's Louis XI (the so-called "Spider King") as a role model for today's business underdogs. However, in author Richard Luecke's capable hands, the lines of comparison are clearly--and believably--drawn.
"We cannot help but improve our understanding and performance by being perceptive observers of others," Luecke writes.
In one of the book's best chapters, Luecke discusses what small-business owners can learn from 16th-century adventurer Hernán Cortés. Cortés, who risked everything in pursuit of the Aztec empire, embodied many essential traits found in modern-day entrepreneurs: a strong drive to succeed, problem-solving skills, and unwavering commitment. Against Cortés, the Aztec empire went down in defeat.
Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian governor of
Massachusetts Bay Colony, was defeated as well. His misreading of the American revolution is a classic example of someone who refused to change with the times. "His misfortune was to not have been born 20 years earlier," Luecke writes. "Which of us has not known such a person--as CEO or political chief?"
There are limits to what you can learn from history, as Luecke acknowledges. But those who are familiar with the past are often the ones who profit the most from the present.
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