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History is bunk

The only history worth anything is the history that we make today.  

History.  The only thing you can do with a history degree is to teach it to students.  Well, that’s what I thought as a young engineering graduate. 

It’s interesting how your views can change, and in the last couple of years, I’ve spent many a happy hour discovering how lessons from history can help inform decisions today.

The only lesson of the history is that people never learn their lessons from the history.
~ George Bernard Shaw

It’s fascinating how a subject, once considered boring, useless and lifeless can turn into a topic of fascination and inspiration.  My journey into reading about history started with a casual interest in US history initiated by a visit to family living in America and picking up a book on the subject.  This generated an interest in the European history that led up to the origins of the USA as we know it today, especially around the Boston Tea Party of 1773.  That led on to a continuing interest in a subject once thought of as boring and irrelevant. 

One of the things I noticed is that history is littered with people falling out with other people, often because of misunderstandings or differences in culture, and going to war because of that.  It seems that we are really quite good at falling out with people that we don’t understand.  It also seems that history is marked by long seasons of things remaining the same, interspersed with short bouts of upheaval where there is a significant change.

The interest in history also led to a fascinating journey of exploration of personal purpose and direction.  I wrote about that journey in a blog post entitled “Experience isn’t the best teacher” and one of the results of that journey involved exploring the question “what works” with regard to life and career.  I was encouraged to explore my personal timeline to see what my personal history could teach me about myself, and about my interests, skills and values.  It also led to a challenge which can be summed up in the words of Robert Schuller who said:

“What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail.”
~ Robert Schuller

Well, one way of discovering what I could do without failing was to see what I had done that hadn’t failed!  My personal history timeline gave some very clear indications where those strengths lay and led to a personal reassessment process. 

One of the outcomes of that reassessment was to discover a capacity for new activities that I didn’t know was possible.  It turns out that the statement that “most experts believe that people typically use only 10% of their true potential” isn’t actually true, however, what is true is that we are capable of far more than we know.  There’s a rule called the 40% rule, and this states that “when your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40% done”, and this seems to have evidence to back it up.

“When your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40% done”
~ Jesse Itzler
(Living with a SEAL)

It turns out that most people seem to hit a wall that can be found less than half the way to their actual capacity, and at that point, it seems like they can’t go on.  For most people, however, they are able to go on well beyond that limit they just don’t know it.  When that’s combined with one of the major stumbling blocks to be found preventing productivity at work, the truth is that there is a whole lot more that could be accomplished than is actually achieved.

One of the reasons for that lack of productivity is that we are often called on to work in areas where we are not using our strengths.  When we are in our strength zone we are able to deliver at a significantly higher level than when we are working outside of it.  Think of a basketball player trying to be a horse jockey, or a wrestler trying to be a long distance runner, and you’ll see athletes working outside their strength zone.  It seems so obvious in the world of athletics, yet we do it all the time at work!

“Learning is discovering that something is possible.”
~ Fritz Perls

The key to achieving more is to stop thinking “more work” and start figuring out “what works”.  More work won’t increase your capacity, it will just result in more work!  To increase your capacity you need to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.  John Maxwell explains in the Law of Expansion that it needs a change of language from “Can I?” to “How can I?”.  It means no longer exploring the world of more work, and instead, making an assumption that there is another way, and that we just need to find it.  Once we make that transition we are able to grow and thus keep on increasing our capacity!

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.