Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Why learn?

It's a strange thing to see America flee from Afghanistan. It's a strange thing after trillions of dollars spent (and likely trillions more stolen) that we've left that benighted land, having thought for parts of three decades that our presence would make a difference.

It's a strange thing to live in a world that has no grasp--and no desire to grasp--the details of history, or even the broad sweeps.

I am by no means a historian of the region. Or of the Great Game that was waged between the British and the Russian through the centuries with alliances and treaties flinging back and forth like a ping-pong ball in a hurricane.

But there's some stuff I know.

Alexander the Great failed.

The Indus failed.

The Kushan failed.

The Scythians failed.

The Parthians failed.

The Saffarid failed.

The Ghaznavid failed.

The Ghorid failed.

The Timurid failed.

The Hotaki failed.

The Durrani failed.

The Aryan failed.

The Persians failed.

The Sassanids failed.

The Hephthalites failed.

The Huns failed.

The Mughals failed.

The Arabs failed.

The Turkic failed.

The Hazaras failed.

The Khwarezmids failed.
The Mongols failed.

The British failed.

The British failed.

The British failed.

The USSR failed.

The United States failed.

Maybe next, the Chinese will fail.

Or Jeff Bezos in his attempt to establish Amazonistan.

Or Elon Musk in his stab at Teslastan.

It sucks not to know history because you don't learn from precedent. 

I'll add, it sucks to know history, because no one else knows it, so you're all alone.

It sucks that to most of the world, the past isn't prologue. It's an encumbrance.

I remember having read about some 19th Century British attempt to subdue the land. And ambushed British soldiers being skinned and having their entrails sewn into their skin. 

I remember thousands of skulls being catapulted over ancient walls. And a fluke snowstorm dooming hundreds of Brits--and even Ghurka--to the most horrid deaths.

Mark Read's notorious statement about getting rid of people like me because I hearken back to the 1980s, is the sort of thinking that I believe dominates militaries around the world. 

History ain't as important as ordnance.

So we make the same mistakes over and over.

Advertising, too.

Infatuation with data is just dumbness du jour. There will be something else next year that rationalizes 20 percent C-level bonuses and the firing of 20 percent of your staff.

In advertising, we know no past--the great business/advertising/marketing successes and failures are neither taught nor studied, so every day every one in every agency learns to ride a rickety bicycle all over again.

A lot of the commercials heralded as "good" in the trade-press aren't much better than commercials from the early days of television advertising. 

I can't believe how many people spontaneously begin to dance in contemporary advertising.

Or how much this crap in 2021 is even worse than this crap was in 1951.

This is not to say that a nation or an agency can be led based solely on historical precedent. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, as they say. But if you're camping in the woods, stay away from men wearing hockey masks and carrying chainsaws. And if you're captaining an ocean liner, avoid, at all costs, icebergs.

When I talk to clients about their business issues, I often do it with metaphor.

Your issue reminds me of, say, Apple's in 1985 when no one knew what they made or why what they made was needed. Your situation is similar. You might want to think, metaphorically, like this.

There are a lot of people like myself--denizens of the industry--who know the industry like a wise baseball manager knows the ins-and-outs of the game.

They've learned from the past.

When to bunt.

When to crowd the plate.

And so on.

They've been down that road before.

But everything is new every day in today's world.

And there is nothing, ever, to learn.

Why bother?

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