Which Is Better: Long-Time History Or Short-Time History?

I’m referring to the place where you work. From a leadership perspective, which is better? The organization or entity with a very brief history (maybe 10 years or less) or the one with a much longer history (more than 50 years)? Make your choice. Pro’s and con’s can be found in each. The shorter history likely means you’re writing on more of a blank page. The existing customs or traditions are … [Read more...]

One Basic Belief And Two Different Approaches

The other day I attended an historical lecture by an historical scholar. I won't specify more than that. Suffice to say, it was about a particular event in American history that is among my most fundamental interests. The historian who gave the lecture is highly respected in academic circles; he is a history professor and published author. I really enjoyed the lecture until it came to one point in … [Read more...]

No Theories

Three people, unknown to each other and in totally different settings, have asked me the same thing. After learning about my work and ministry here at Historical Solutions LLC, they wanted to know about my theory of leadership. What is your theory, they asked me. Don't have one. Don't want one. Don't need one. Well, I said it a bit more politely than that. I'll leave the theories and the … [Read more...]

Light of a Candle

Something is always on when I do serious writing. It's a burning candle. Sounds a little weird perhaps, but here's why I do it. As most of you know, 99.9% of my writing pertains to history. I like having something that I can see which immediately goes back to a period in historical time, in this case, when people used candles for light. I can look into the light of the burning candle and see a … [Read more...]

Neptune And You

Here's an exercise for your use of history. Neptune. What's the difference between the past of Earth and the past of Neptune? Answer that; it's not a trick question. I'd say that somewhere on the list of answers is this: people. Earth has people. Neptune doesn't. People are part of the story of Earth's past. Not true for Neptune. Now, what's the difference between the concept of past and the … [Read more...]

New Technique and Big Success

I tried something with the group from the U.S. District Attorney's Office, the session I did on the 1721 smallpox epidemic in Boston. As you may know, I like to have a group work through a historical situation as it really happened--from week to week, as unknown events and situations emerge. That's the river of history I talk and write about so often. In this case, I did something new with this … [Read more...]

Best Profiles

Goodness! I have no right to expect to meet so many interesting people. But I do meet them, day after day, one by one. Today was no different. I met a potential client for my Creative Conversations service, my one-on-one coaching that uses history for personal growth. In the course of our chat, I realized that a profile can be built of those folks who excel and thrive with my ministry at … [Read more...]

The Links Of Syria

A participant in my recent Workshop on leadership and credibility asked a great question: what are the key historical connections with the Syrian civil war and the US interaction with it? Super question. Here is my thought: five jump to mind. First, the current situation in Syria points to something I've been pounding on for the past three years. We are reliving the replaying of the late 1930s. … [Read more...]

External And Internal: The Link Between Brand And History

Permit me to use a term that might nauseate a few people and fascinate others. Brand. There is a link between the brand and the history. The history of an entity is a key source of its brand. But it's not enough to know that. You also need to know that the brand, like the history which informs it, can be divided into two parts. One part is the external brand, or that attitude and understanding … [Read more...]

Cancer Specialist in 1865

I've found that a cancer specialist had a medical practice in downtown Indianapolis in the summer of 1865. Nearly twenty years later, Dr. Edward Howard was still in business. His practice had grown to include his son as a fellow cancer specialist. Oh, and one more thing--Dr. Howard emphasized that his treatments were non-invasive. Can you imagine? Cancer, non-invasive, specialist, years of … [Read more...]

A Visible and Visceral Reaction

Earlier this week, I witnessed an amazing moment. In the span of a few seconds, 151 years disappeared. Gone. I was there to see it happen. This was the scene. Seven people, not counting me, were seated around a table. We were re-experiencing the four days Abraham Lincoln spent with the Army of the Potomac in early October 1862. A little over half-way done, I had the group take the real-life role … [Read more...]

Three Families in the White House

There is no question but that the family and family life of Barack Obama has been a singular part of his presidency. It's also been a singular part of how we as the American public and people have lived in his presidency. Press and media coverage have emphasized the Obama marriage, the Obama parenting, and the Obama family generally. I'd say that's been a good thing. Here's the bigger point. When … [Read more...]

The Parking Lot

Not long ago I wrote a post about the fact that history is where you find it. I believe that important, dramatic, and meaningful historical events and people can be found anywhere. History is where you find it. Don't look only in museums or on monuments, at historic sites or historical markers, history can be anywhere. It's up to us to take the time to be curious, to unearth it. An international … [Read more...]

Today’s Walkshop

3 people went out on the Walkshop this morning. One of the most gratifying aspects of it was this statement from a participant: "His whole life turned in a different direction in literally one minute." A short while later, my wife and I spoke on the phone. She caught me up on her day at the office. Among the things she shared was this: "Their whole lives completely changed in that … [Read more...]

Light Rain, Soaked Ground, 58 Degrees, And Gray Skies

I’m looking out the window of my home office. A light rain falls. The ground is soaked. The temperature is 58 degrees. Gray skies.Let’s use this particular day to learn something about time and history.Go back over the brief description that I gave you of the day. Now, what does that day suggest to you if I said it’s early fall? What about early spring? For that matter, what about either summer or … [Read more...]

Light Rain, Soaked Ground, 58 Degrees, And Gray Skies

I’m looking out the window of my home office. A light rain falls. The ground is soaked. The temperature is 58 degrees. Gray skies.Let’s use this particular day to learn something about time and history.Go back over the brief description that I gave you of the day. Now, what does that day suggest to you if I said it’s early fall? What about early spring? For that matter, what about either summer or … [Read more...]

A Balance Of Delicate And Important Proportions

I read today that Gabrielle Giffords and her husband have endorsed the plea agreement reached with the gunman who shot her and several other people in Arizona in early 2011. The exact statement was this: “Avoiding a trial will allow us—and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community—to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives.” All right, it’s understandable. Absolutely. And … [Read more...]

Founding And Tradition: Much Different

I presented to a leadership team (equivalent to a vice-president and a tight group of key directors) and two unique things happened. One was the structure of my work for them. It was the department or division’s annual retreat for its highest level of leaders. The client and I agreed that it would be a valuable for the group to use the history of their own organization—a history that began in … [Read more...]

Water On The Rock

I've written this piece for The Commonplace Book, but I think it's important enough to insert here, too. Think of a big event in your life, something that you believe has left a deep impression on you since it happened. Got it? OK, I’d like you to go with me for the next minute of so. Keep your chosen event in the front of your mind. How much time has passed since the event occurred? Do you … [Read more...]

Two Runs

Your history folds over onto itself, layer by layer. Here's one such instance in my life from this past weekend. We had dinner plans at another family's house. They've friends of our two daughters and ourselves. I had to drive separately and arrived about five minutes ahead of my wife, our two girls, and my mother-in-law. I was seated at a kitchen table when they walked into the family's living … [Read more...]

The Rape of Nanking

Because of my weird turn of mind, I see a lot of history every day when I open up a newspaper. Some days, however, you don’t need to be weird. It’s so obvious it jumps right out at you. Today is one of those days.According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the mayor of a Japanese city outraged thousands of Chinese internet users. The mayor asserted publicly that Japanese atrocities against … [Read more...]

Ralph Stanley’s Little Mathie Grove

If you’re ever a little curious about my approach to history, here’s a quick story about it. Before I tell it, you might want to download and listen to Ralph Stanley singing a song entitled “Little Mathie Grove.” This song illustrates my approach to history. To begin, it is itself historical. The original version dates back to the 17th century, in the era of Shakespeare. That’s when it was … [Read more...]

Google and Slavery

Google announced today a donation of $11.5 million to help combat slavery in the world. That's right, slavery. The announcement included the estimate of 27 million people around the world right now who live in some form of slavery. Think our world is so much better than before? Think progress is so clear-cut from earlier generations to our own? Think you and I have cornered the market on wisdom, … [Read more...]


Your personal history is about a whole lot more than birth dates, death dates, and the rest. I realized today, this morning in fact, that personal history has a very unique expression. I met with a man who is in his 60s. I know his son who is in his 40s, having met with him just last week. I realized that father and son share a variety of mannerisms and physical gestures. It was as if you had … [Read more...]

The More I Think About It, The Dumber It Sounds

An American philosopher from the early 20th century, George Santayana, once said, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." Or something very close to that. I used to think that was pretty profound. Now, I'm convinced it's one of the dumbest quotes imaginable, one of those utterances that we're supposed to accept without thinking. That's the trouble. The more you think about it, the … [Read more...]

400 Years Gone in 400 Seconds

I had a private client session recently. In that session, I spoke about the ways in which New England both became and behaved as a distinct region in the 1600s. For non-math majors like me, that's 4 centuries ago. The fascinating thing about this particular session was that so great and so powerful were the similarities of this 17th-century region to today's multi-site corporations that both the … [Read more...]

Indiana State Fair: I Was There

My family and I were at the Indiana State Fair last night during the tragedy at the concert. We were outside of the concert venue on the Midway street. My wife, youngest daughter and the family of my oldest neice were in one part of the street, while my oldest daughter and myself were actually in the Midway heading back toward the grandstand area. I plan to send out a video this Tuesday. I have a … [Read more...]

Fast Versus Vast: Time, Your Life, and History Unfolding

In your life time acts in two very strange, seemingly contradictory ways. On one hand, time is fast. You know what I mean--the years since some big event in your life pass more quickly than you ever expect. High school, college, wedding, birth of a child, and more, each of these rushes by so fast you can't believe it. But on the other hand, time is vast. By this I'm referring to all of the things … [Read more...]

A Truth Beyond: Misreading a Clash of History

History can seem contradictory, a clash with itself. When it does, I urge you not to think that you’ve been tricked, conned, or hoodwinked. Look a little longer and you’ll likely find that two diametrically opposed facts can co-exist. A major health news event from yesterday will show the truth of my point. Avastin is a drug often used to treat women with breast cancer. As a mark of the drug’s … [Read more...]

Tears in the Library

Sitting in a non-descript library, I began to tear up. I was watching a video of Secretariat's victory in the Belmont, the final of the three Triple Crown races. The race was in June 1973. I was 11 years old at the time. The video was the actual footage of the race, including the post call by Chic Anderson. In the background was symphonic music. The end of the clip included both still shots and … [Read more...]

Real History Not There and Yet Still Made

Nearly every day, on an interstate highway, I drive by a pond dug when they constructed the four (now six) lane road that I travel on. It's in a fairly dense retail area. Back in the late 1970s, when I was in high school, there was a well-known restaurant that sat on the bank of the pond. It was called The Wharf. I always wanted to take a date there, to the Wharf. It struck me as the kind of … [Read more...]

The Right Glue

I found a news story that didn’t make much of a splash. A professor of disaster planning at Tohoku University in Japan commented recently that research shows “it takes about three generations of people to forget.” Professor Fumihiko Imamura was referring to the communities affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami earlier this spring. After three generations, people forget or lose track of … [Read more...]

History Matters: Look at Facebook Fight

Think history is a field of dispute for buffs, re-enactors, and History Channel freaks? Think again. Huge money can be involved. Just look at the ongoing conflict over the people involved in one way or another with the start-up and launch of Facebook. They're arguing over who did what to whom and when--at stake are millions and billions of dollars and an equivalent amount of pride. They're … [Read more...]

Changes Coming to the Website

A wonderful thing about self-employment is creativity. You think about doing it, and then you do it. That's exactly what will happen soon with the front page of my website. As of now, along the bottom of the front page you'll see a handful of images. Click on each image and you'll hear a short audio clip from me. I want to change that. So, I'm convening a meeting of Historical Solutions LLC to … [Read more...]

The River in Family

We overlook our families too quickly. I'm referring here to your growth and insights as a leader. Yes, I use people and events from history that are either well-known or should be. However, I think we rely too much on other history and not on that of our family in learning to be better leaders. Your family--whether those still living or those gone on--is a wonderful source for real, meaningful, … [Read more...]

Is This Your Habit?

Take a look at this e-bulletin from today’s Wall Street Journal (February 25, 2011):“LONDON--The U.K. economy shrank by more than initially thought in the fourth quarter of 2010, shedding new doubt on the economic recovery and pushing back expectations of an increase in Bank of England interest rates.”OK, you’re probably wondering: so what, Dan? Granted, it’s not a big deal. But there’s something … [Read more...]

A Different 80-20

Have you heard of the “80-20 rule?” It’s the thought that in any given situation, you’ll be able to gather about 80% of the information you need to make a decision. The remaining 20% is gut-feel, instinct, and whatever label you put on it. The point is that you can’t expect to know everything you need to know. You’ll have to accept a measure of the unknown in making a decision. I like the 80-20 … [Read more...]

A Technique For Some Of You

I'm offering out a personal technique or practice that will be of interest to a few of you. Before I share it, permit me to provide a filtering comment and question--if you are at least somewhat spiritual and/or Christian, please read on; if not, you might be offended or ruffled by my suggestion, proceed with caution. So, having done that, let's proceed. In the last several months I've started a … [Read more...]

Triple Layered History

I saw three layers of history at an event from which that I just returned. The Downtown Indianapolis Kiwanis Club conducted its 36th version of the Abe Lincoln Scholarship Luncheon. Local high schools nominate deserving high school seniors who have overcome extraordinary obstacles to be successful and promising students. Each student had a stirring, emotional story to share. It was wonderful, … [Read more...]

My Frustration with History–Yeah, I Get It

Quite often after a session, I'm approached by a participant, or two or ten, who explains that they really aren't history buffs but still enjoyed the presentation and discussion. Today I had a realization--like them, I too had many negative experiences with history in classroom format. In eighth grade I argued with my history teacher about the information he was giving on the American … [Read more...]

Pearl Harbor and You

I read about a week or so ago that the Pearl Harbors Survivors Association is dying. Literally. The members of the organization—devoted to remembering an event they lived through in December 1941—are passing away. The river rolls on. Two things die with them. One is the collective oral memories of the members. Yes, it’s likely many of the members wrote their memories down on paper. But there’s … [Read more...]

The River: A Nature of Change and Continuity

The river teaches you to know change and continuity. Currents change, depths change, banks and shores change, surfaces change, bottoms change, the directions change, the things floating or stuck in the water change, living creatures change, dead creatures change, seasons and weather change. On and on it goes. The change is so great that it feels constant and thus, can become difficult to separate … [Read more...]

Seeing History

In November 2010, Paul Bulmahn flew aboard a helicopter over the Gulf of Mexico. Bulmahn, chief executive officer of ATP Oil & Gas, peered through the chopper's window. He looked out over the vast body of water beneath him and saw various types of oil rigs and drill platforms. Some were in use, some were not. Some were new or newer, others were quite old, dating back to the 1940s. Bulmahn … [Read more...]

The River: Not All Currents Flow Forward

Let's revisit my river analogy. Check out my blog index for a full description of it--look under "River." Now, I'd like to elaborate on the current. A river's current does not always flow forward or ahead. There are things called "eddies." An eddy is a part of a river where the water actually pivots and flows backwards in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion. At the end of the motion the … [Read more...]

Look at Careers, Work, and First Jobs Differently

About a month ago I was invited to participate on a panel to discuss how I found employment as a history major. The panel was part of a conference for history graduate and undergraduate students. After the three previous panel members described their stories, I took a somewhat surprising tack. I didn't offer out any advice that might go on a resume, a job application, or be used in networking or … [Read more...]

On the River

Looking back over the past couple of years, I think one of my biggest positive steps was in the discovery of my river analogy. For those of you who don't know it, I liken all of life, all of history, to a river. You put in at Point A (your birth, for example) and you put out at Point Z (your death), and everything in between looks a lot like going down a river. There are twists and turns, shallows … [Read more...]

An Example of Focus and Niche

Someone sent me an email about a request for proposal (RFP) that he thought would interest me. It was a kind gesture. I glanced at the rfp and decided not to pursue it. End of story. But not really. It now strikes me that this could be useful to you. Here's why. The rfp was for an organization seeking historical research. They wanted to contract with a vendor to provide this service. For a brief … [Read more...]

A Precedent Sign

Here is a sign to look for in determining if you place too much emphasis on precedent in your understanding of history. The sign is about repetition, exactitude, and using history. Some people insist that history can only be useful in the present and future if the historical point in question is exactly replicated. They believe that if some details are different between then and now, it … [Read more...]

Go Deeper Than Precedent

You know what a precedent is--it's a discrete event, action, or happening that has occurred before and which has occurred again in present time. You read a newspaper or hang out on a current-events website and you'll find a reference to precedents. They're not clearly or directly labeled as such but they're there. Whatever you can think of in today's world and your life right now, there's a … [Read more...]

Has This Ever Happened To You?

It was extraordinary, something I'll remember for quite a while. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at home, on a weekend I think. I was reading (something historical would be a good guess). As I read, for some unknown reason, a memory of a smell flashed in my mind. At the very same instant--probably no more than a second in length--I had a clear recollection of a place and event long ago in my … [Read more...]

The River: A Factor Not In The Water

Sometimes you just don't, or maybe can't account for all the factors in any given situation. A canoeing trip illustrated this to me in a big way. I'm paddling down a river, doing a solid job of working with the current and navigating around various obstructions. Then, I encountered something I hadn't thought of or prepared for--coming around a sharp corner and entering a section with few trees on … [Read more...]