Rename the History subject!

This morning, I heard something that changed the way I think about the topics of “learning” and “history”.

On the Tim Ferriss podcast, Richard Koch, the investor and author of “The 80/20 Principle” (which I have read) shared that he majored in history at Oxford. He said that his knowledge of history helped him to think clearly about the probability of things happening in the unknown future.

Koch said, “History is great at teaching you to think,….when I was a student, there was Alan Taylor… he was a very, very good historian. He said, the future is a land of which there are no maps. So when you look back in history, everything seems inevitable.”

“But when you look forward in history, it’s wide open. And so in thinking about an investment, you always got to say, what is the most likely thing that can happen? And what are the outlying things that could happen?”

I stopped in my tracks (literally, since I was jogging while listening to the podcast) and thought:

In that case, shouldn’t we rename “History” in school to something like “Navigating The Future Using The Knowledge Of History”? (Can you suggest a shorter subject name?)

When I was a student, learning History as a subject was a chore because it primarily required memorization and regurgitation of numerous dates and facts. Many people likely think that history is very dry, but that is probably due to how they were taught the subject.

On the other hand, many people enjoy reading biographies of famous people, because they view these books as stories they can learn from, and not “history”. Aren’t biographies historical records?

It’s often said that our world has become a VUCA one (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). But what I learnt in my journalism days is that history often repeats itself, as I saw the same patterns of human behavior repeating itself in different scenarios.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana.

China President Xi Jinping paraphrased Qing dynasty scholar Gong Zizhen, saying “Only by studying history can one understand the Great Way.”.

I think people do understand the value of history. But if you ask them to learn the topic of History, they may groan. If we can reframe the topic and show its critical use for our future decisions, then perhaps History may one day become the most popular topic to study in school.

I help people grow with my skills with words, visuals and AI art. I also partner Oo Gin Lee in storytelling for companies.

(Image generated by me and AI via Stable Diffusion. This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn).