History lessons: business advice from the past that is still relevant today


Revisiting history has always been a mindful way to gain a greater perspective and understanding of all kinds of subjects.

So for the bright entrepreneurs of the modern age, looking back at past industry trends, businesses and innovators can teach them valuable lessons in building a truly great enterprise.

While the actual steps you’d take in your endeavors will be vastly different from back then, the methods of thinking that historical business leaders have exhibited, whether they be admirable or misguided, can still show entrepreneurs the best practices and pitfalls to avoid.

1. Be willing to adapt, or you’ll fall behind

Technology is rapidly changing all the time and subsequently influencing the way businesses view their current approaches. Companies today are typically fighting to stay at the forefront of the industry by utilizing the most effective technologies possible. Indeed, a willingness to adapt is a vital trait for business leaders and owners, and history shows us that there have been serious consequences for those who stubbornly refuse.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous example of a failure to adapt is Blockbuster. While the movie rental company enjoyed abundant success for a long period, it failed to give proper attention to its competitors, like Netflix, who were beginning to corner the online distribution market.

Instead, the leadership maintained their original strategy, which involved running thousands of physical stores. This took a toll on the business as the rental industry turned digital. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010, defeated by their unwillingness to change.

Entrepreneurs must remain open-minded to new trends and solutions, and be unafraid to embrace adaptability, especially now in our ever-changing world. If Blockbuster had better leveraged it’s momentum from its historical model and pivoted their strategy, they might still be around today.

2. Build your company with the community in mind

Everyone has to start somewhere. Whether your focus as an entrepreneur is on your town, city, state, or even country, looking to the community around you will give you a good idea of what consumers want, or what needs must be addressed.

IKEA is a company whose origins reflect this methodology for success. In Switzerland after World War II, a sociological shift led to the rise of young couples moving in together before marriage. As a result, they needed affordable furniture, and IKEA was there to fill that need.

Eventually, IKEA expanded and is now internationally renowned. This just goes to show that if there is a need within a community, there’s a good chance other communities may be facing similar problems and would benefit from your business’ solution.

Starting your company with your community in mind is a great method for developing products and services that are scalable and appealing to a wide audience.

3. Know your market

Gaining a deeper understanding of the market is what can take you from simply providing for a need to being innovative and creating progress. As has been famously attributed to Henry Ford, “If I had simply asked people what they wanted, they would have asked me for faster horses!” There’s a lot of nuance in the process of servicing consumer needs.

Entrepreneurs must then think critically about their goals and their target audience: consumers may know what they want, but it’s up to the entrepreneurs of the world to offer, as Henry Ford says, solutions to problems they didn’t even know they had. This is one of the most fundamental goals for entrepreneurs.

Knowing your market also means finding out if consumers would be interested in your new product or service. Ford gauged the potential interest in automobiles beforehand, figuring out things like who would buy it, how much they would pay for it, and what sort of features they would want from a car.

Because of this, Ford was confident that there was a large potential market for automobiles. He confidently moved forward and introduced the Model T, laying the foundation for what is now one of the biggest industries in the world.

Entrepreneurship is a long tradition with a rich history, and there are many lessons for modern business leaders to glean from the past that can translate to success in the present.

Who knows? Perhaps one day, someone will tell the story of your business and use it as a framework for their own success. Sometimes, history repeats itself in positive ways.