The Edmond Sun

Opinion

April 9, 2013

Success comes from understanding history

RICHMOND, Ky. — I was reading an obscure blog, “The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Special Needs Planning” by Scott Solkoff, when I saw a line that jumped out. “There will be new opportunities for special needs attorneys because of the complexity of the Affordable Care Act.”

That line made me realize the fundamental key to success:

1. Change is always going to make things more complex.

2. Those who “get” the complexity will master the universe.

I’ve owned a computer since the first IBM PC 30 years ago. I spent countless hours learning how to program code, manipulate software and rewire machines in order to do something simple like calculate simple numbers.

On the other hand, my ability to quickly calculate numbers gave me a huge advantage over competitors, who still use pen and paper. Many of them did not make it.

Apple became the largest company in the world by sticking to the mantra of making their products simple to understand. I don’t need to do complicated programming to get an iPad to work; I just click on an application specifically designed to the task I want it to perform.

If I wanted, I could still do programming on an IBM XT. Part of me thinks that I spent years on a skill that is no longer needed.

The better part understands that the skill helped me get a competitive edge and fuel my desire to embrace change.

Most people are afraid of change. They want affirmation from “what everyone else is doing” and don’t want to spend the time and effort to keep on educating themselves. I’ve been as guilty of that as anyone.

I realize that my stalling points in life are when I decided I “knew everything” and got lazy.

As Harry Truman said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

The first key to understanding Truman’s point is to recognize that you are never going to “know it all.”

The second key is that if you aren’t constantly trying to “know it all,” you are going to fall behind.

I see the world with a great divide of have’s and have not’s. I don’t see it as shaped by economics or ideology.

The divide is between people who are hungry to learn and those who aren’t.

The hottest countries on the world stage, like China and India, are fueled by the excitement of people willing to seek knowledge and embrace change.

A simple dynamic fueled their desire. Not long ago, they were two of the poorest countries in the world. They are seeing their quest for knowledge being rewarded with a better lifestyle for their families and themselves.

It’s a lot harder to embrace change when things are going pretty well. It’s also hard when you don’t see an immediate tangible result.

That is where education comes in.

One of my great frustrations of 21st century society is that the study of history is not cherished as it should be. There is a lot of focus on dealing with the problems of the moment instead of recognizing that someone else dealt with a similar problem decades or centuries ago. To use another Harry Truman quote, “the only thing new is the history you don’t know.”

That is why I sat and read all 906 pages in the Affordable Care Act. Several times. I read every nuance through the same lens: Where are the opportunities for myself and my clients?

I also viewed it through the lens of a historic event: The interstate highway system. Just like Obamacare will do, the interstate highway system dramatically changed America. Those who understood the opportunities prospered. Those who did not went out of business. Although there were some who made money building roads and bridges, the overwhelming opportunities of the interstate highway system were not on the surface.

One on both sides was Colonel Harlan Sanders. He had a successful restaurant in Corbin, Ky., right on a main road, until the interstate highway system routed cars in a different direction. Broke at age 65, Colonel Sanders did not curse his bad luck.

He embraced change, such as the mobility of society spurred by the interstate highway system and the rise of fast foods like McDonalds. By teaming up with smart businessmen, like former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., Sanders created one of the world’s most successful brands in Kentucky Fried Chicken.

There are immediate opportunities for my clients as Obamacare comes into law. What I am looking for is the less obvious opportunities, just like Colonel Sanders. As I learned from history, it’s possible for an obscure Kentucky businessman to ride the waves of change to success.

As long as we are willing to embrace change and not be afraid of it.

DON MCNAY is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at don@mcnay.com.

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