Those who’ve lived through multiple generations of style will likely recognize that some of the popular past items have come full circle—what once was in style lost popularity, but then made a comeback. Likewise, there always seems to be a new radical and faddish diet out there, contradicting what was previously established as the standard. Even business seems to go through its own evolutionary cycle. I suspect that most of the changes we experience in dress, diet, and even business come down to the positive ambition finding the next best practice. While business practices tend to change, there are consistent and timeless business principles. In a compilation of quotes from historical figures regarding business, I found these three principles as pertinent now as they were then.
1. “My ambition is prevalent, so that I contemn the groveling condition of a clerk or the like, to which my fortune condemns me, and would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station … I mean to prepare the way for futurity.” -Alexander Hamilton
Lesson to be learned? Keep focused on and prepare for the future—your ultimate end goal and vision. Hamilton rose from pretty meager circumstances to become one of history’s most influential people, and he attributes his success to his unwavering commitment for “futurity.” As someone who has started several businesses, I understand that maintaining focus on the end goal is critical. When business challenges arise (and they will), the commitment to one’s vision will allow for enduring enthusiasm to the venture. Additionally, a focus on the future prevents one from focusing on short-term gains that jeopardize the bigger picture.
2. “We assemble thousands of operatives in the factory, and in the mine, of whom the employer can know little or nothing and to whom he is little better than a myth….Rigid castes are formed, and, as usual, mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust….Often there is friction between the employer and the employed, between capital and labor, between rich and poor.” -Andrew Carnegie
Carnegie understood in 1889 something employers still struggle to recognize today—the dissonance between management and employee can be detrimental to employee satisfaction and business success. In today’s business best practices, jargon such as transparency, employee engagement, and company vision are regularly emphasized. But these aspirations will be challenging to achieve without a relationship between employee and employer. In a recent note from an employee, he explained the importance of conversations purposed with leadership getting to know him better. He expressed that these personal conversations (even brief ones) with management gave him a greater sense of belonging and investment in the company culture and goals. While business size may limit the interactions between organizational levels, bridging the gap is a timeless principle for any leadership team.
3. “Power and machinery, money and goods, are useful only as they set us free to live. They are but means to an end. For instance, I do not consider the machines which bear my name simply as machines. If that was all there was to it I would do something else. I take them as concrete evidence of the working out of a theory…that looks toward making this world a better place in which to live.” -Henry Ford
In several of my pulse articles, I’ve suggested that developing a product or service that meets a legitimate need is crucial for business success. Ford understood that the products he created were only useful if they allowed a person to live a better life. Businesses that are clever and even useful fall to the wayside if they do not improve the quality of life for the user. Before you pursue a business idea, it’s important to ask, “Does this meet a need (not just want)?”, or, “Is it clear how using this product will improve the user’s life?”.
While styles, ideas, trends, and practices come and go, there are underlying and timeless principles that are enduring. Because the world is ever-changing, the methods we use to develop and run our businesses will also change. However, applying timeless principles like keeping the end in mind, bridging the gap between leaders and employees, and improving user’s lives will ensure that your business success itself is not a fleeting fad.