history

History: Why Uncovering Your Company’s Past Helps You Stay on Course

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Socialism versus capitalism…don’t like it? You’re a fascist.

On our recent sabbatical to northern Italy, Reka and I began finding the crowds and heat unbearable, so we chose to head to Croatia and the Adriatic coast. Knowing little of the military history of Croatia, we decided to go to the museum located on a high point in the small seaport town of Pula. As we entered the old stone fortress, we saw all sorts of weapons and posters hung on the walls.

This was going to be interesting.

I have a reasonable understanding of history in the region; in fact, in the early 90s, I traveled through a corner of what was Yugoslavia at the time. It was a dark era for this country because it was breaking up into the six countries that exist today: Croatia, Kosovo, Slovakia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. This museum was specific to the Istria peninsula of Croatia, an area that endured the Romans, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, Hungarian kings, Hitler, Stalin, and other villainous characters. In short, the tiny peninsula where grapes, olives, and fruit grew abundantly had experienced, been involved with, and survived some of the toughest times in history.

I had the feeling the current political state and governing philosophy of Croatia was about the best the residents had seen in a very long time, perhaps ever. From our perspective, the people seemed happy. Although our visit was short and we had limited exposure to the culture, virtually everyone we ran into smiled, looked fit, laughed, and appeared to be family oriented. The education system works well because almost everybody spoke English (and much better than most Italians). Crime appeared to be low, as we saw many families and young people out at night and we never once felt uncomfortable or in danger.

We also visited the Ancient Roman Colosseum, which was filled with tourists, yet we mostly heard Croatian being spoken; this suggests that at least some Croatians have money for a vacation, entrance fees, and restaurants. We noticed that the majority of individuals had a smartphone. The streets were clean, updated, and new construction was happening. Even with the giant Soviet-era apartment block, on the hill, this seaside escape felt like it was going to boom.

I kept these things in mind as we walked through the museum. I reflected on how resilient we were as a race – human race, that is. What was truly interesting about this museum was that the items displayed weren’t censored. There were bad things from the past, such as pictures of Hitler and Stalin, swastikas, and propaganda. And this country owned it – the good and the bad. I didn’t sense there was any pride in the bad, but it was clear that they didn’t want to forget the past. There was no blame, shame, or embracing of the past, yet they weren’t going to simply let it disappear. It was what it was.

In that moment, I had a realization: it seems that after every conflict or atrocity, the victor writes the history. This felt a bit different, though. I had the distinct impression that in this case, it was intended to help people today and in the future to not forget the past, but to learn from it and improve going forward.

I’m aware that they have a long way to go as a country, yet witnessing how well it appears things are running and where the country is headed gave me a feeling of hope.

I started thinking of some of the young people I know, many of our educators, and an increasing number of political leaders who seem to despise the values and power of capitalism. They’d prefer to embrace the failed ideals of socialism and communism, going so far as to wear shirts with the mass murder Che Guevara depicted as a hero – this thinking appears to ignore the reality of history and exactly what it has looked like through the years. This little museum microcosm of humanity presented the bad and was now reflecting on the good and its future manifestations.

Today, if you proudly say you’re a capitalist, you may be labeled by the uniformed as “fascist”; the truth is, their reactionary thinking is more aligned with fascist thinking than anything else. To be clear, completely unfettered capitalism and capitalist philosophies have the potential to turn into private monopolies, which have the potential to become dangerous. Government monopolies are actually the foundation of socialism, only they’re controlled by bureaucrats. However, on a whole, no other market form compares to capitalism – the positive impact of this system has proven time and time again, and it has changed the world.

Capitalism has increased the quality and length of life, and it has improved the human condition around the world in ways never dreamt of by a bureaucrat and on an unparalleled scale. This has been achieved by releasing the creativity and innovation of the individuals and allowing for failure – all as a result of empowering success through individual accountability and positive rewards. Versions of socialism have been tried by millions in Russia, Cambodia, Cuba, Venezuela, China, and numerous other places…never, I repeat, never with success even close to capitalism. In most cases, only the ruling overseers thrived at the expense of the vast majority. China recognized this and shifted its market conditions to a capitalist variation that’s been tremendously successful. I believe I was seeing the positive results in Croatia, too.

Why capitalism is demonized in the West by much of the ruling elite, academia, and the well-educated, is difficult to understand. I believe it’s due (in part) to their disregard of history. I passionately plead with these individuals to review history, be objective, assess what did and didn’t work, and to think for themselves.

Seeing this small museum memorializing the past in a very clear and factual way allowed me to comprehend how our current mode of thinking in the US has been degraded. I hear the words “fascist” and “racist” thrown around by people who obviously don’t know or understand their meanings. A recurring theme on our Italy trip has been to approach situations with a desire to learn, listen openly, and to genuinely have a desire to understand what the other person/group is thinking. However, I believe there’s an additional point: We need to be open and honest about where we’ve been, where we made mistakes, and what’s worked/not worked in the past.

As organizational and business leaders, being truthful and transparent, listening, and being aware of your own company’s past – good and bad – is critical in your success and that of others. The next time a major issue arises, try taking an objective look at your company’s history to see what can be learned. What worked well and why? What was a train wreck and why? Be open to learning from the past.

If you’d like assistance with reflecting on your company’s history in order to prepare for the future, please reach out. We’re here to help you and your team succeed in all endeavors!

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