Why Bother with History?

Ten years ago, on LinkedIn’s Asset Management History Forum, I asked  “Why bother with history?” It was the most animated discussion on the forum. Now, with ten more years of history behind us, have we learnt more or do you agree with Jan Korek’s view that history is irrelevant?

This was Jan Korek’s opening statement:

“I have never subscribed to the suggestion that you need to know where you’ve been, to know where you’re going! History, to me, is little more than a badly-drawn representation of the past, based on an exaggerated impression of successes….. and an amnesia of the failures. 

Having been deeply fascinated by Asset Management for a score or more years, and am still working at the blunt edge of the process, I have had to change, adapt, forget much and learn more along the way. So what do practitioners, or the process, gain from a knowledge of when (or why) some obscure government department became notionally interested in the stewardship of infrastructure assets? I would suggest very little. 

Anyone who has been in Asset Management for a period of time will have grown their own unique history based on any number of influences. So what is to be achieved in distilling each individual story into an homogenised, badly-drawn fiction? Experience shows that we even fail to avoid the mistakes of the past, even when we know the history involved. The news, each day, is full of such examples. 

What seems more important is the future, “Where are we now”, and “Where to from here”? Or to put it another way, you need to know where you are now, to know where your going.” 

A compelling set of arguments. 

Opening for the other side was John Hardwick.


What a start to the year you go away for a couple of days and a great discussion begins. I can only say that everything i have implemented has come from others.

I have implemented knowing what worked and what didn’t. I have used this to significantly change the way my organisation does Asset Management. I am only new in comparison to many of you but it is your collective knowledge i have used.

Also I have used your history and stories that have helped many other companies not make the same mistakes.  I am a strong believer that we learn from our mistakes and not to make them again. 

If this is the case it is critical for new organisations implementing Asset Management to have access to some of the good the bad and the failures.

I have given more then 20 organisations access to my staff and myself over the last twelve months to learn from what we have done and the mistakes we made. The best part is I learnt so much in return it has been amazing.

History allows us to tell stories that help others conceptualise their path to hopefully a more successful future. 

Also a compelling set of arguments. 

What’s your view?

How has your understanding of AM history enabled you to be a better asset manager?

One Thought on “Why Bother with History?

  1. RUTH WALLSGROVE on June 4, 2020 at 10:54 pm said:

    The question is easy to answer: definitely! I can’t imagine how limited I would have been without it. For me, Asset Management is all about continually learning, and not just from my own, current experience – which, let’s face it, is just an isolated snapshot – but from other people’s experiences, and not just their current situations either.

    Despite what some techies I know think, the study of history is not primarily about collecting more data, but the harder process of analysis and interpretation. Why did it happen that way? Could it have been different? What were the key factors, the difference that made the difference? Sounds just like model building to me. I don’t quite know how else you can think about what might happen in future.

    How horribly limited any of us would be if we thought only about the present and from people we know personally. History is about tapping in, not merely to more evidence, but more wisdom – billions of other people over centuries to learn from. And we have more than 30 years of actual practice of AM to benefit from. Anyone really want to argue we shouldn’t? Or, sadly, that none of us are still capable of making the same mistakes people made three decades ago, if we don’t learn?

    Ruth x

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