It’s All Been Done Before

There are no new problems, folks. Sure, we all like to think our industries and issues are special snowflakes. But our problems are nothing new.

Over more than 60 years combined experience, we’ve realized that good solutions are idiosyncratic: they aren’t typically built from scratch by an industry’s experts in isolation. Nope. A lot of what we call “innovation” is like Taco Bell’s menu: yet another combination of the same 5-10 ingredients with some good marketing. Industry leaders are just combining and adapting processes, technology, and time-tested traditions from other eras and industries in ways that look different on the outside. The details change. Technology changes. Even the scope changes. But the fundamental problems and solutions don’t. So the solutions to most of our problems are hiding in plain sight.  We just have trouble recognizing them, because we’re so conditioned to focus on the unique details of our own industries that we overlook how much we have in common with others.

The patron saint of this approach is science historian  James Burke, who says,

“People tend to become experts in highly specialized fields, learning more and more about less and less.

“Unfortunately, so much specialization falsely creates the illusion that knowledge and discovery exist in a vacuum, in context only with their own disciplines, when in reality they are born from interdisciplinary connections. Without an ability to see these connections, history and science won’t be learnable in a truly meaningful way and innovation will be stifled.” (source)

It’s seems counter-intuitive, but the more someone knows about history and other industries, the faster they can solve their own problems. They spend less time trying to invent new solutions, and more time discovering how the same root problem has been solved in the past — usually by someone with fewer resources and simpler technology that we have now. They stop trying to reinvent the wheel, and spend more time adapting proven strategies. Because it’s all been done before.

That’s what we’ll explore in The Hidden History of Business. From midwives in Colonial America to percussion manufacturers in modern Japan, and from the Epic of Gilgamesh to modern irrigation systems in Peru — we’ll explore together how ancient solutions have modern consequences for anyone willing to see them.