July 21, 2020 • Adam Nemett
There’s a quote, dubiously attributed to Mark Twain: “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” I love the pith, but here’s the more flowery and accurate quote, from his 1874 novel The Gilded Age: “History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.”
Whether your organization is 10, 50 or 200 years old, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve had to navigate some significant challenges. You may even regularly rehash those “antique legends” in service of “the pictured present.”
Every company has had its mountains to climb and dragons to slay. Maybe once a year, there’s a major event that has an impact on an entire industry. With corporate interests becoming increasingly global and interconnected, we also experience those once-per-decade or once-in-a-generation events that ripple across the world economy: oil shocks, wars, the global financial crisis. Just to name a few.
Periods of major uncertainty are nothing new—even as we overuse words like “unprecedented” to talk about today’s global pandemic, economic crisis, civil unrest and whatever tomorrow may bring. Uncertainty is a certainty. We’ve been through these seismic shifts before, and with the specter of world-altering events like climate change, it’s inevitable that we’ll be here again.
This may be cold comfort, but the good news is that there is actually precedent for these trying times—and the study and storytelling of how organizations made it through historic turbulence happens to be our business.
In aggregating and reviewing that inventory of corporate experience, we’ve noted the following historical “rhymes”—some of them seemingly obvious but worth repeating—that hold true in times of uncertainty:
Change and disruption are constant, and major global events can very quickly alter the best laid plans. Our case studies, our comprehensive Guide to Capturing and Using Heritage in Uncertain Times and our Real-Time History solution can help leaders and communicators develop a clear course of action to transform a volatile business environment into a catalyst for positive change.
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