Study the past if you would define the future. – Confucius
The next section looks at your past, where you’ve been and what you’ve done so far before we move to the future in the last section.
The past is something you can understand
If you want to really understand what someone will do in the future, the best way to do that is to ask them what they’ve done in the past.
The past is a place where you’ve passed through. one that you’re familiar with.
You have memories of the past.
And these are important, the story of your past – your history – is the most valuable thing you have right now.
The word history comes from an ancient Greek verb for “to know” – and brings together methods of collecting information, organising it and constructing a narrative.
This is not an easy task – a narrative can be a list of facts or it can weave together myth and truth or it can be manipulative, a retelling of history to suit the point of view of the person telling the story.
Think of how this works in a business setting.
How would you present yourself at an interview?
You’d probably send in a resume or CV, which would be a list of facts – where you went to school, your work experience, your accomplishments so far.
When you go for an interview you come out with stories, with narratives about your past.
The past is where you go to when you look for certainty and truth – it’s clear and known.
Or at least, it’s a plausible story that you can believe in.
Why don’t people just believe in you?
The next time someone is trying to persuade you to do something, listen to how they speak.
If they’re not too experienced at sales, they will probably be passionate about the future.
Listen to a founder talk about the business – there will be lots of sentences starting with, “You could do…” this or that with our product.
There’s a lot of fantasy in such statements, and the problem with them is that they are fantastical – they’re imagined possibilities.
And no one really believes in fantasies.
Especially if they are your fantasies.
We know instinctively that the future is uncertain
The problem is that we know in our gut that the future is unknown and mysterious.
There are a million possible futures that could be potentially realised, and who knows what’s going to happen.
Whether we say this out loud or not, what we really want from the future is the past but with better benefits.
Few people walk around asking for their businesses to be radically transformed, looking to create huge changes in the way they operate, or invest in huge ideas that could change everything.
Mostly, they want certainty and a few improvements.
Think about the way in which your other half will react if you come to them with a business proposal.
One is based on a get-rich quick scheme based on trading international properties that you’ve just learned about in a small room in a hotel.
The other is based on starting an independent firm based on the job you’ve been doing for the last ten years.
Which one is more likely to get a sympathetic hearing?
Which one is more likely to put food on the table and a roof over your head?
The past is what others can believe in
If you want to persuade others stop talking about the future, about what you can do, and talk about your past, what you have done.
You have probably done more than you realise.
There are skills and experiences and capabilities you possess right now that can help you in the future, if you list them, organise them and enlist them in the service of your cause.
There are also the realities and constraints of the past which will restrict what is possible in the future.
You have to understand these and work with them to build the future you want.
We all have different histories to start with – some are scarred, barren landscapes while others are lush, verdant pastures.
Nevertheless, they are our histories – and we must look at them before we can move forward.
The next series of posts will look at how to understand your past so that you can build a better future.