Jacqueline Oud - Culture

History and strategy: an undeniable link


Strategy is a rather complex matter but one that can be viewed and understood at different levels. I strongly invite the readers to read the article «What is Strategy About» before continuing this article. It is important to understand that a strategy is set up by a plan consisting of different steps.

Step by step...or...suddenly

A strategy is never something that has happened all of the sudden. It may seem to others sometimes as if "one day it was ready" or as if "someone must be gifted for obtaining anything" or simply having "chance". For those who are really interested in strategy, they will be interpelled by the "how". This "how" will explain the different steps that were needed to obtain the result.

Learning strategy

For those who have to learn strategy it is not always easy to detect the different steps. Good strategies are made by those who have vision, who know how to motivate and to put in place or in other words, know how to act. Pure business strategy will be diffucult to study alone. Case studies are used as to explain but this is not sufficient. History is the helping hand to understand strategy. Good strategists have often been good rulers or good military man. With history, even those strategists who might have failed at some moment are providing us lessons.

History can thus provide us different cases that are of an enormous complexity and will teach of many interesting interactions that will have to be taken into account when putting in place a strategy.


In the novel "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy, the 2nd Epilogue starts with describing what history is: "History is the life of nations and of humanity. To seize and put into words, to describe directly, the life of humanity or even of a single nation appears impossible." [1]

This shows his idea of how complex history is. Being able to undertand history requires more than a possibility of looking back and trying first to understand the global situation.

The second step will be to understand the various elements that designed the situation. It will consist of different interactions in time, different aims of the various actors, different cultural situations and different tendencies. It will thus become clear that to understand, one will need to decline the global situation in history into different elements and different steps.

Strategy versus History

Strategy is in a way the opposite of history, that is in speaking of time. We have seen that in studying history, one learns of the different events and moments that happened. One counts backwards. In strategy we will have to count to the future and make the events and moments happen. In the same way, strategy will need to take into account the various elements that might interfere with the goal or the way of achieving the goal.

Experiences to teach

History can in a way be considered as an experience and thus avoid some kind of errors. Being more positive, history can also show what went well and motivate to take advantage of the "lessons learned". If we consider the internet burst and its cooling-down we can draw up the similarities with the Railway evolution. Some magazines pointed these similarities out very clearly, whereas others didn’t even seem to be able to create a proper, global view.

Many politicians studied history. Many Royal family members started their studies with history too. It enables them to obtain a global vision, understand the past and thus the present and understand reactions and situations.

We have seen how studying history enables to understand the past or learn strategy, however a good historian is not a good strategist. There is a huge gap between understanding the past and foresee or programm the future. Nevertheless, managing the future is something that attracts mankind since a very long time.

From history to Strategy

History shows also the difficulty to select the information and the different point of views that should influence a strategy. According more value to an opinion can influence the strategy to be put in place. In life you are faced with many sources of information and opinions, how do you manage to decide which one is the most relevant. History can show a certain type of reaction on different decisions taken at a certain time. It will guide on any future decisions and how to prepare or react.

History can show us some trends and cycles in life and thus understand what might happen. It will thus prove that a strategy is a follow-up from different elements, and that as long as time is not ready, these elements - though they may be very good individually - will not be able to be placed in its good order. It will teach us that sometimes one has to wait until time is ready to act. However, waiting is something very difficult for many. Patience is rare and big business risks are often taken due to a lack of patience.


A good business strategist will have to learn from history, and try to detect those elements that are relevant for his business. Knowing what are decisional events, people and actions is crucial. Understanding the time effect and readiness of the market is a key element of the same importance but often neglected. [2]

[1War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Edition: Oxford World’s Classics, 1998, page 1267

[2More and more discussions appear on the influence of the shareholders and the business activity. Many want quick action and don’t understand the time of reflexion. The time element is not considered in that case.

[22 March 2004]

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