Bear with me reader, for this article will be a meandering journey through history – but the ending is relevant to your daily client needs – even if your customer doesn’t know it yet.
I often get into debates with people over how much history data is relevant, which I go into detail on in the first post of this series. However, recently I came across an outstanding example of just how relevant history can be – for those who take the time to review it.
I’ve been reading 1177 B. C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed for a few days now. It caught my eye because he discusses the infamous “Sea Peoples” of ancient times. Many years ago I wrote a paper theorizing that these “Sea Peoples” were in fact the same people who sacked (or fled) the ancient city of Troy. I remember becoming very angry when my professor later published “my” idea without giving me credit. Of course, I now know that generations of folks have proposed exactly the same thing, and I was simply not educated enough on the subject to realize it wasn’t an original idea at all. He didn’t steal my idea – he just happened to write on the same topic at a later date.
History Lesson #1 – More information, even if it only confirms what you already believe, gives you a better chance of convincing others you are correct.
I know by now that you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the point! Well, I actually just did. As a result of not having enough data elements available to me, I wasted time doing pointless research that had already been done by scholars who spent their lives in study on the subject. Had I been able to argue the idea by citing well known and respected individuals on the subject, I likely could have gotten better than a ‘B’ on my paper.
Anyhow, back to the story. In the book, the author tells us of the ancient Battle of Megiddo, where Thutmose III of Egypt recorded one of the first known battle histories in the ancient world. Thutmose states that there were three routes to the city his army could take. Those to the left and right went through wide plains – perfect for the Pharaoh’s chariots. The middle path, however, went through a narrow valley, and was a perfect opportunity for the enemy forces to ambush his army and cut them apart piecemeal. The Egyptian generals argued for either of the flank approaches. Thutmose, however, would not be swayed. He agreed that the other approaches made the most sense, but countered that because they made sense, either would be exactly what the enemy expected. Better to surprise the enemy and defeat him with little loss than face him in a pitched battle.
History lesson #2 – The boss may not always be right, but he’s still the boss.
Obviously, Thutmose got his way. The army marched up the narrow pass and surprised the enemy, who had divided his forces equally between the other two routes. The Egyptian army was easily able to capture the enemy camp, though the town took another 7 months of siege work because the citizens of Megiddo were able to close and bar the gates while Thutmose’s army plundered the enemy’s camp outside the walls. However, had he taken one of the other routes, it’s likely he wouldn’t have had the manpower to lay siege to the town at all after fighting his way through the enemy wing.
History lesson #3 – Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not relevant.
Fast forward 3400 years to 1918. It’s World War I, and British General Edmund Allenby is planning his campaign to wrest Palestine from the hold of the Ottoman Turks and their German allies. A well read man, Allenby used Egyptologist James Breasted’s translation of Thutmose’s victory stele in order to plan his campaign. The results are spectacular – at the cost of a few horses, Allenby is about to get behind the enemy’s lines and force them to cede miles of territory. Perhaps just as incredible, this wasn’t the only time Allenby’s army took a cue from an ancient battle. A major used his knowledge of the Bible to recreate Jonathan’s victory at Michmash (which is in itself a great story).
History lesson #4 – If 3400 year old data can be used to save money and lives, why can’t your more recent data do the same for you?
And that, dear reader, is quite literally the million dollar question. We live in a fast paced world, and things change all around us. However, in spite of all of that change, people are still basically the same – and no business can be successful without an understanding of the people it employs, serves, or competes against. If you have the chance to grab a data element, no matter how insignificant it may seem now, grab it! Poorly planned data warehouses that were too restrictive in scope and too cumbersome to update are what has led in part to the data lake / big data revolution. Margy Ross has a great article on the Kimball Group’s site where she talks about exactly that.