In keeping with our 40th anniversary theme, “Revolutionize,” we will be releasing excerpts from founder Bruce Weindruch’s book, Start with the Future and Work Back: A Heritage Management Manifesto, throughout the year. This month, we take a look at revolutionizing history.
“An influential client of mine, Barry Deutsch, once gave me an invaluable piece of advice. ‘Don’t ever sell a product,’ he told me. ‘Sell what you believe. Sell a philosophy.’
This was back in the early 1990s, when my company, The History Factory, was a great idea in the midst of becoming a great business. I’d founded the company in 1979 with a very simple goal in mind. I wanted to help organizations capture and use their corporate memories to address current challenges and achieve future goals.
That’s what History Factory was and continues to be to this day. We help our clients extract the maximum amount of value from their history.
When organizations have a sense of their history […] time slows down like something out of The Matrix, and they soon gain clarity of precisely where they were and where they want to go.
Our clients begin to see through the blur to the things that have value. And once we’ve helped identify the stories, characters and events from their past that are potentially beneficial, they can start using them to their advantage.
Their history becomes found capital, something uniquely valuable and uniquely their own.
Some can benefit by preserving their history – building better archives, conducting oral history programs and recording history in real time. Others should consider communicating their history in more effective ways, through the creation of physical exhibits, videos, books or digital content.
But this much is undeniable: In today’s business environment, an organization’s history simply can’t be ignored. It will be praised or scrutinized, used or abused, depending on how an organization cultivates it and the ways in which it is disseminated.
And when I say companies should go out and communicate their history, I mean tell a story. Something with interesting characters and drama and triumph and meaning embedded in it. Something that’s both authentic and relevant – the sort of thing that gets people engaged and inspired. Something that creates a buzz.
I have no interest in writing history for history’s sake. There are plenty of skilled academics capable of doing that sort of thing. But I don’t believe dry, non-strategic corporate histories serve the real-world needs of corporate America.
What good is history, after all, if no one reads it?
When I think of the history of any organization, I think of it as a powerful catalyst for making things happen. I am the descendant of generations of skeptical, no-nonsense businesspeople, so I’m genetically predisposed to be on the lookout for tangible outcomes. An effective corporate heritage program absolutely must yield a good return on investment.
Every client has a particular need at a particular time. For some, it’s the need to bolster slumping morale or improve shareholder relations. For others, the goal is to ease the tensions of a complex merger or seek inspiration for an advertising campaign.
Good corporate heritage programs can do all of the above, especially if compelling storytelling is at the heart of that process.
But in order to extract maximum value from history, you have to be very purposeful in crafting the stories you’re telling.
You have to think like a marksman. Identify a target. Figure out what you want to hit. How you’re going to hit it. And then strike the bull’s-eye.
At The History Factory, we have a term for that process. It’s called Start with the Future and Work Back.”
To continue reading, purchase Bruce’s book.