The More Things Change…
Do you have books at home that you’ve meant to read for years, but never got around to? I recently pulled one of those old volumes out of a box in my attic, blew off the dust, and finally read it. The book was A Distant Mirror by the historian Barbara Tuchman. A best-seller in its long-ago day, it presents an in-depth look at the 14th Century through the exploits of a French nobleman in the Hundred Years’ War.
Now the Hundred Years’ War wasn’t a classic war in the modern sense, it was a series of occasional battles and skirmishes punctuating long periods of plague, pillaging, and religious and political instability. As it ran its course decade after decade, it brought to a bloody end the age of chivalry, where kingdoms were won by knights in armor on horseback, and gave rise to a time when the long bow, the foot soldier, and eventually, the firepower of guns and cannons, were the superior force.
The author painstakingly details the string of stunning losses in key battles by a French aristocracy that was not undermanned, but outmaneuvered. And most striking was the fact that its failure was nearly always the direct result of individual pride and the unwillingness to let go of long-held ideas.
Essentially, the heavily-armored, sword-wielding French knights insisted on being in the forefront of every battle not because it was the best plan, but solely so they could reap the glory of victory. They disdained the use of foot-soldiers or archers because these troops were not members of the nobility and, therefore, should not be allowed to play a key role in battles.
While the French subscribed to these centuries-old beliefs―and would not even listen to their own advisers about abandoning the old ways of war―the English had no problem attacking first with foot soldiers and well-positioned archers to precede the nobility and prepare the way for victory in battle after battle.
Being open to, at the very least, considering new ideas is essential for survival in a changing environment, whether it’s the 14th Century or the 21st. That doesn’t mean you have to jump at every new thing that comes along and deep-six traditional solutions, but it does mean you need to be aware of the changes around you and logically consider which would be beneficial to learn more about and possibly adopt.
If you are dismissing the use of social media marketing or consultative selling or any other new idea because you’ve explored it carefully, determined your core clientele would be unlikely to respond to it, and decided that the necessary investment would be beyond your resources to make, that’s fine. But if you’ve dismissed it out of hand because you’re not going to listen to any wet-behind-the-ears purple-haired Millennial’s ideas, can’t waste the time to find what it’s all about, and don’t need to use it because you’ve never had to use it in the past, well, you may be following the same path as those doomed French knights.
The French nobles possessed sufficient resources, courage, and battlefield intelligence to proceed in a way that could have led to victory―and perhaps ended the century-long conflict decades earlier―but their own stubbornness defeated them. Sadly, when pride and intransigence get in the way of looking at situations realistically, rational decisions are often the first casualty.