“Should Leaders Study History Before Making Major Decisions?”

Remember the usual climax of cheesy 1970s horror movie trailers, and that sinister male voice saying “But then…something went terribly wrong!”? If you want to avoid hearing this voice over and over for all your business life, the answer to the question in the headline is: Yes.

In any decision, analysts should first separate the “Known” from the “Unclear,” and both of them from the “Presumed,” Harvard historians and former presidential advisers Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May argue in their modern classic, Thinking in Time.

In their compelling work, they explain in great detail how history enables decision makers to understand and implement their options by covering debacles, disasters and decisions gone horrible awry. The authors provide nuanced information on how to choose among options and implement decisions.

According to their research, the primary value of “thinking in time” is to help decision makers exercise prudence to prevent things from going “terribly wrong” in the first place.

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Thinking in Time

History teaches that the past can and should inform the present.

Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May Free Press
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