In 300 B.C., Solomon reflected on his lifetime of experience reigning as the King of Jerusalem. He consolidated his thinking into a letter to future generations, which he opened with this declaration:
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
On the surface, the idea that nothing is new flies in the face of all the new tech advancements going on around us. Artificial intelligence, web services, wireless connectivity, autonomous vehicles, and so on seem like groundbreaking, never-been-seen-before developments. It’s exciting to think about these cutting-edge advancements as “new.” It can also be a bit scary to think we’re in uncharted waters.
The Analogy Reflex
However, what we think we need to learn and know to be successful in this rapidly changing world has already been figured out. Problems we face today are the same problems people in the past already solved. The implications of this belief — that there is nothing new under the sun — are profound.
I like to think about it in terms of what I call the “Analogy Reflex.” As you go through your day of running your modern business, you’ll inevitably be confronted with a problem or conundrum or opportunity, and you will look for insight. Ask yourself, “Where is the analogy to this situation? Where have people faced a similar situation, and what did they do or not do?” It might be easier to find an answer to that question you’re facing than you thought.
Same concept, different era
Think about it this way. In 1980, I walked into IBM and could use any “terminal” to sign onto the “network” hosted by centralized central processors. I could send mail and documents and access other hosted applications. Virtual Memory (VM) and Mass Virtual Storage (MVS) architectures made all of this seamless, hardware independent, and enabled me to access my data anywhere in the world.
In 2018, I have replaced the word “host” with “cloud,” but otherwise things seem pretty much the same. And some of the mistakes we made in managing access controls, backups, configuration management, security, and disaster recovery are being made all over again today.
We hear about the digital divide and the consequences of uneven access to high-speed connectivity. Each semester I ask my students at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland to construct policy to solve this problem. After listening to their ideas, I show them the Rural Electrification Act of 1938. That policy solved the electrification divide and brought electricity to farms and rural communities. My students then understand that the 1938 document can be used as a framework for solving the digital divide.
You’re not the first, just the next.
Give up the thought that you are alone in trying to figure all this out. Enjoy the fact that you are just the “next” person facing this situation — not the first. The great part of finding historical analogies to inform your current action is that the insights from the past have sustained the test of time.
First published on Inc.com