History

by Ben Perreira

I drove down to San Diego after work on Wednesday to get an early start on the Thanksgiving weekend. As usual, my dad greeted me with a beer and the family started catching up. He grabbed a few large pieces of paper he had printed and began to walk us through what was on them – family trees from his and my mom’s sides of the family going back hundreds of years.

Some branches weren’t as long as others because just about everyone who came from Portugal between 1850 and 1950, it seems, had the same name. But my dad had found people who had fought in WWI and even found two records of our ancestors filing for Revolutionary War pensions.

Later, my mom was talking about how my brothers and I were as young kids. Our personalities and interests have remained remarkably stable. My younger brother (who played college baseball) was ultra competitive. My older brother (a gearhead who works on vintage and exotic cars) took everything apart. I (the guy writing a blog post on a Sunday evening) was rather studious and inquisitive.

There’s something to knowing about your history. I visited Portugal in 2003, and in 2008 I went with my mom and her brothers to the town across from Liverpool where their mother grew up. Our pasts don’t dictate our futures, but they can inform them.

I like to do a lot of excavation when I’m working on a new brand or project. To state what may seem obvious, the way an organization imagines its place in the world has a lot to do with how it communicates its products and services.

For some companies the main goal is simply to make a product that is suitable for the needs of its potential customers and is sold at a competitive price. For others the goals is a lot deeper. Take Patagonia’s mission statement:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Neither model is superior, per se. But a brand like Patagonia leaves no ambiguity. Even in an organization with the complexity in production, distribution and global reach Patagonia has, everyone from designers to marketers to retail workers can look at those few words and roughly devise what their marching orders are.

If history is regenerative and strategy is what we do on purpose, understanding the interaction between the two becomes especially critical (and fun).

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