As I have previously mentioned, I will be writing a series of articles about World War I and the lessons we can learn from it.  Most of these will apply to many aspects of life, but I hope you will find all of them particularly relevant to managing risk.

One of the most depressing things any study of that war will reveal is that almost all the countries involved persisted in repeating the same mistakes over and over again. (A practice which Albert Einstein defined, in another context, as evidence of madness).  Here are just few of the more obvious examples.

  • The French kept sending their cavalry to charge against machine-guns and rapid-firing rifles, with the same result, time after time, until they had hardly any cavalry left. This was, fortunately, one mistake the British and Germans avoided.
  • The British, and most others, persisted in preceding every major infantry push with a heavy artillery bombardment.  This invariably failed to do very much damage to the enemy, but mad the ground all the more difficult to cross, making the infantrymen easier targets for enemy guns.
  • The overall approach of fighting in trenches and periodically trying to advance slowly in large numbers on foot, directly towards the enemy, was repeatedly unsuccessful. Winston Churchill called this “sending men to chew barbed wire”.
  • Alternative tactics were almost always rejected.  The introduction of tanks was resisted for a long time.

So the first lesson from the First World War is to learn your lessons!

Of course we all know the old saying: “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. However, it should probably be interpreted as “try again, having learned the lessons of past failures”.

What mistakes are you constantly repeating in your business, or in any part of your life?

Would today be a good day to stop and think?