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General and former National Security Advisor HR McMaster in his book “Battlegrounds” mentions the two conflicting forces of change and consistency: diametrically opposed concepts that must be balanced to successfully fight a war.  This embracing of antagonistic ideals is critical for success in business and life in general too, and should be explored occasionally to expand our thinking and deepen our understanding of self, one of the most critical factors for those who give guidance for a living.

The world today is not the world of Alexander the Great or Marcus Aurelius or Ben Franklin or when we were kids, and yet it is also fundamentally the same in more ways than we want to admit in our egalitarian and technologically driven evolution.  Two thousand years ago Aurelius said “Today you shall meet with meddling, ingratitude, insolence, treachery, slander, and selfishness”.  Today you will encounter orders of magnitude more because of larger populations and greater interconnectivity of the economy, all enhanced by traditional and social media giving the loudest and most extreme a disproportionate power of influence.  Ben Franklin’s own grandson ran a slanderous newspaper that spread lies and deceit through the early years of the United States, maliciously and falsely spreading misinformation and attacking everything from how the yellow fever epidemic was handled to taxes to his own Grandfather. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

McMaster first reached prominence beyond the battlefield for his book “Dereliction of Duty” (released in 1997 as an expansion of his Ph.D. Dissertation) which analyzed the flaws of leadership and logic that doomed the Vietnam War.  The Afghanistan War supplanted Vietnam as the longest and most ineffective military campaign in US history for many of the exact same reasons he had discussed.  Change is the only constant but war remains brutal and no matter how technology and tactics evolves; the fundamentals are the same as when the first tribe attacked another with fists and sticks.  We are still human.

We are still making the same mistakes in our lives as our great-great-grandparents even with all the advancements in equality and employment and psychology and technology.  When in business someone says “This time it’s different” or “people have changed” without understanding simultaneously why they have NOT, I shudder and roll my eyes and go back to the Dot Com era or the Roaring 20’s or the conquest of the Americas because we don’t change, no matter how much we do.

People still take the easy route instead of the right one that is harder, takes more discipline with less guarantees, and does not give the instant gratification.  We now understand the bio-chemical mechanisms behind this yet people still lie and cheat to feel good in the moment instead of feeling better long term, just as they did in ancient Greece or Rome or Civil War era America.  The same yet different, because the mechanisms and methodologies are more effective in some ways but people are still essentially the same as we were five thousand or five hundred or five years ago.

Technology enhances people, for good and for ill.  It does not change us even if it changes the world around us and how we interact with it and each other.  Under the Snap Chat filters we are still the beautifully flawed and scarred people we were, and seeing the angel and devil simultaneously is the sign of emotionally and intellectually mature decision making.  The sort of decisions that lead to victory.

The analogy that business is war (as is love) is as ancient as commerce for a reason.  It is a less bloody exchange but still on the spectrum of human interactions, of new innovations (Bitcoin or two bits or buck skin in exchange for food) allowing the most basic of human needs (food, shelter, water, safety) to be procured, thus hopefully allowing us to move up the pyramidic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  How we move up after meeting the basic needs has changed, but those basic needs are the same as they were in the past and will remain so in the future.  Because we are human with the balancing forces of order and chaos within us.  Whether Lover, Friend, or Foe across the centuries our needs are still the same, our base desires and lofty ideals remain consistent even though how we achieve them continuously changes.  

And remember: the greatest war you will ever fight, your most difficult battleground, is not against an external opponent but internally between your past and your potential.  Consistency and change in one human, a microcosm of all of us.  Think about that.

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