Predicting the Past-Why Looking Good With the Benefit of Hindsight Is Not an Option for Your Business

Nauseating.

business-hindsight

That’s how I feel about the industry which has grown up since the catastrophic crash in the Irish economy in 2008.

The industry I am referring to is the large collection of individuals who I describe as the “I told you so brigade”.

These people would have you believe that, just as Cassandra foresaw the fall of Troy in Greek mythology, they knew what was going to happen, that the economic catastrophe and associated mistakes were entirely avoidable if only they were heeded or, indeed, asked for their view at the time.

The Man in the Arena

These people are the antithesis of “The Man in the Arena”, who Theodore Roosevelt spoke about in his speech, “Citizenship in a Republic”, in the Sorbonne, Paris in 1910.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

When these individuals appear at Dáil committee hearings on the banking collapse, or on RTE radio, or Vincent Browne on TV 3, or on PrimeTime, or Newstalk, or anywhere else they might find a platform, I immediately think about

“the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds;… who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The honest public utterances of Dan O’Brien and John Fitzgerald in relation to their failure to predict the crash should be contrasted with David McWilliams’s claim to have spent a decade predicting the collapse.

There is something deliciously ironic about somebody predicting something for 10 years, isn’t there, when you consider that a broken clock will give you the correct time twice a day. In fact, the Irish Examiner reports that McWilliams first predicted a crash in 1996, some 12 years prior to the collapse.

12 years prior. How prescient is that?

If you are an entrepreneur, or small business owner, or investor you know that you cannot make decisions based on your forecast being correct once every 12 years.

You would soon go bust.

McWilliams also told the banking enquiry that the bank guarantee of September, 2008 was the correct decision because it was the only thing that would prevent a bank run. In fact, McWilliams described it in print at the time as a “masterstroke”.

But now, 7 years later, he says it should have been temporary and have had more conditions attached.

Well, it’s easy to say that now.

The Governor of the Central Bank, Prof. Patrick Honohan, had to write to the Oireachtais banking enquiry, within a month of his first appearance before it, seeking to go in again and “clarify” his thinking.

He was looking to distinguish

“between a “hindsight scenario” and what information was actually available to Government at the time”.

To put it plainly, Honohan had initially told the committee in January that Anglo Irish Bank should have been allowed to collapse. However, in March, when he got a 2nd bite at the cherry he said

“he thought this must have been a “senior moment”.

He had “leapt from one scenario to another” in his responses to the committee, he said.”

Keep in mind that this evidence is being given at a remove of 7 years later, with the benefit of all types of hindsight, opinion, reports, commentary, etc.

This second bite of the cherry was not something that the decision makers of September, 2008-in respect of the bank guarantee-could request.

As an entrepreneur or small business owner you need to be careful about relying on the forecasts of people for whom, quite frankly, the cost of getting it wrong is negligible or non-existent. You, like the Man in the Arena of Roosevelt’s speech, simply don’t have that luxury.

You also will not be able to rely on the benefit of hindsight at a remove of 8/10 years after the event, like the gentlemen above.

Every decision you take will be tested vigorously in the crucible of business, by competition (both national and international), and through the impact of international and national economic forces beyond your control.

Keep in mind: Predicting the past will not be a luxury you can afford.