The most important lessons from history are the takeaways that are so broad they can apply to other fields, other eras, and other people. That’s where lessons have leverage and are most likely to apply to your own life.
Here are some of the my takeaways and favorite snippets:
Lesson 1: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
People suffering from sudden, unexpected hardship are likely to adopt views they previously thought unthinkable … Hard times make people do and think things they’d never imagine when things are calm.
Lesson 2: It takes a special kind of crazy.
Reversion to the mean occurs because people persuasive enough to make something grow don’t have the kind of personalities that allow them to stop before pushing too far … Being right is the enemy of staying right because it leads you to forget the way the world works.
Lesson 3: Things sometimes look like they’re getting better when they’re actually getting worse.
Unsustainable things can last longer than you anticipate. Identifying that something is unsustainable does not provide much information on when that thing will stop. This happens because of incentives and storytelling. Incentives are often tied to maintaining only one part of a system, not a whole system (see: ratings agencies, mortgage brokers during credit crisis). Storytelling because if enough people believe something is true, unsustainable ideas can gain durable life support.
Lesson 4: Progress happens too slowly for people to notice; setbacks happen too fast for people to ignore.
The irony is that growth – if you can stick around – is a more powerful force, because it compounds. But setbacks capture greater attention because they happen suddenly … Understanding the speed differences between growth and loss explains a lot of things, from why pessimism is seductive to why long-term thinking is so hard.
Lesson 5: Wounds heal, scars last.
Those who survive calamities – an important distinction – have a remarkable ability to adapt and rebuild. It’s often far greater than you expect it to be at the end of the calamity. But there’s a big difference between a wound healing and a scar remaining.
We can see and measure just about everything in the world except people’s moods, fears, hopes, grudges, goals, triggers, and expectations. That’s partly why history is such a continuous chain of baffling events, and always will be.