You might think business visionaries only focus on the future, but effective entrepreneurs also embrace the past. History provides valuable lessons for sociologists and anthropologists, but the benefits found in the rear view mirror aren’t limited to these fields. Business operators working in all corners of the consumer marketplace can learn from the past.

Forward-looking, business-minded, self-starters each have a vision for the future. Whether reimagining their industries or simply making the most of the opportunities before them, inspired business professionals are eager to ride the wave of change and innovation, straight to the bank. Despite the lure of things to come, the most successful entrepreneurs also understand that learning from business history can help them avoid costly pitfalls.

Are you a student of business history? If you’re not already looking to the past to guide your future, you may be able to enhance your business plan by exploring the successes and failures of past entrepreneurs and their ventures.

Change is Certain

Understanding the rules of the game and effectively navigating the playing field are key concerns for entrepreneurs. Achieving these goals would be relatively easy in a static environment, but conditions are continually in flux for small business operators. That means today’s solutions may not yield the same results tomorrow, and it’s up to you to anticipate, accommodate, and guide your business through markets in motion.

Sprout Funding logoChange is always underway, altering the ways producers, sellers, and service providers conduct business. Despite the progressive nature of commerce, steady change doesn’t necessarily mean business is unpredictable. On the contrary, some of the same forces sparking change in the past may again be at play, influencing how your business performs today. Embracing these historical lessons can reduce uncertainty and create competitive advantages.

The History of Business Holds Valuable Lessons for Entrepreneurs

The World Economic Forum recently shared the views of a few top business historians. Their observations provide unique insight into what history tells us about the future of business, offering actionable advice for entrepreneurs.

  • Consider The Human Element – Countless changes have shaped the evolution of business, during its history, but one element remains unchanged. People are at the center of all business enterprise. And their personal influence isn’t going away any time soon. Understanding human nature and its role in business can help you manage your venture, enabling you to apply lessons gleaned from a long history of human relations.
  • Watch the Price – Transformational times may be more closely tied to price, than innovation. We tend to accept the moment an idea is conceived or its potential realized as an instant of change. Another school of thought points to pricing as a better indicator of changing times. According to the theory, the true breakthrough occurs not when a product is born, but rather the point at which its price drops, bringing it into the mainstream.
  • Recognize 3 Types of Professionals – Business standouts historically fall into three categories. In simple terms, entrepreneurs are trailblazers, creating new things and advancing innovative philosophies. Adding order to entrepreneurial innovation, managers are historically best equipped to develop ideas and guide them to their full potential. Straddling multiple disciplines, leaders energize the effort, keeping a business on track, despite challenges.

It isn’t uncommon for business owners to play all three parts at various times during a company’s development, but you won’t be able to wear all three hats at the same time. One of the lessons you can learn from the past is when to focus your efforts on each role.

  • Build a System – Business has been conducted for hundreds of years, in one way or another, so many different approaches have led the way for entrepreneurs. You don’t necessarily need a revolutionary new method to succeed in business, but it could dramatically increase your upside potential.

It’s possible that walking a tried and true trail may be enough to satisfy your business ambitions, but you won’t hit the ball out of the park until you devise a system of your own. Historically, innovators such as Henry Ford changed the playing field, by developing systems that transformed business and industry. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, applied the same principle to Amazon, launching his own original structure, based on historical lessons.

  • Establish Clear Strategic Goals – When opportunities present themselves, business owners must be ready to act. Without a clearly defined organizational direction and well-articulated professional goals, you may not even recognize a prime opportunity when you see it. And with only flimsy planning and muddled expectations to guide them, how can you expect employees to advance your mission?

Effective commercial planning recognizes short-term priorities, as well as long-range objectives. For planning to pay off, you must do more than acknowledge all the things that might make your business better. You must also plot an efficient course to success and inspire a professional culture in which employees are united, working toward the same goals.

  • Emphasize Adaptability – Business history illustrates how flexible entrepreneurs adapt their commercial endeavors to better address prevailing needs. Countless business ventures have set off in one direction, before shifting gears and finding success on an entirely different course. Every budding entrepreneur hopes to win the race, right out of the gate, but your commercial development may not take off in a straight line. Instead, you may experience many twists and turns, before settling in a sustainable groove.

Progressive entrepreneurs naturally look ahead, hoping to anticipate the next winning opportunity. As important as it is to stay tuned to the future, wise small business operators also recognize the benefits of studying the past. Whether you’re just getting off the ground or celebrating prolonged success, learning lessons from the history of commerce can help you avoid missed opportunities and costly blunders.

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