There is little doubt that 2003 is going to be a pivotal year for some companies and many more individuals. It’s not that I am exhibiting any remarkable prescience here; it is just that every year has this quality. The fact is that we don’t often recognize the importance of changes or events at the time they occur.
Let’s look at a few of the events that will be celebrating anniversaries and ask ourselves how significant they might have seemed at the time.
One hundred years ago, Regina was officially incorporated. Still no NHL team. In 1503 Nostradamus–the sage of the ages–was born. You would have thought he would have known his fame would endure, but he probably didn’t. In 1773, 230 years ago, a bunch of guys went down to the Boston Harbour and threw some crates into the water. They wanted a big splash, but I doubt they imagined it would be seen as a pivotal moment in U.S. history.
A bit closer to home, 50 years ago, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. While it would be hard to dismiss the significance of that event, even at the time, for her it was the day she took over from her father.
Further back, in 1903, silver was discovered in Cobalt, Ont., and that has had a dramatic effect on the local area and, arguably, the entire mining industry in Canada. It has, in fact, been called the cradle of Canadian mining; I, an automotive guy, am in no position to argue.
We all have our own personal anniversaries to celebrate, and I am no exception. To make a point, I’m even going to step out of the so-called significant anniversaries. So, 34 years ago, a very special thing happened to me. My father, a club racer who built and drove an open-wheel car, plonked me down on his lap and took me for a ride around Mosport. I still remember how it felt to have his hands wrapped around mine on the steering wheel, reaching slightly right to shift up and down through the gears. At the time, it was just a lot of fun for a kid. I had no idea how it would shape my life. I have never been very far from the automotive industry or racing since.
Still, as I mentioned, its significance was realized only later. You might have similar events in your past; odds are you probably do.
You might argue that events of such a personal nature are like this and are different from the larger, more public events. How about the fact that this is the 100th anniversary of Ford Motor Company? Did Henry Ford think it would become one of the “Big Three”? He surely hoped for success, but there were myriad carmakers opening and closing at the time. And how about Harley-Davidson? No reasonable person would suggest that Messrs. Harley and Davidson could have known the impact their motorcycles would have on a whole series of subcultures: the bikers, the Easy Riders, the stock brokers . . .
A couple of bicycle mechanics, Orville and Wilbur Wright, also had an idea 100 years ago. They wanted to be the first to air with controlled motorized flight and they succeeded. Such a tremendous event must have been greeted with acclaim, but no. The day of their 12 seconds of flight, they wired their father in Dayton, Ohio, who took the story to the local paper. The editor, no doubt seasoned and harried, took a pass. It was, he obviously thought, just one of many unsubstantiated claims. The Wrights didn’t even get a “local boys make good” story. That all came later, after much more work.
Which is just to say that the next time someone tells you that an event is pivotal, paradigm shifting or whatever, remember that history tends to be the judge of that.
But perhaps it is just as important to recognize that these people felt they were doing something worthwhile and to them, that’s all that mattered. Maybe that is an even better lesson.
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