Super Cities №161 — To Innovate, Forget Business. Study History.

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Since 2011, the number of history majors has decreased by ~34%

Since the economic crisis of 2008, the pattern of undergraduate majors has been shifting across American higher education. Of all the major disciplines, history has seen the steepest declines in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded.


The best business products always build on earlier work. Innovation is powered by old products and new models.

Netflix did not invent digital streaming. Apple did not invent smartphones. Amazon did not invent e-commerce.

Although Tesla is worth $63 billion, did you know that electric cars have been commercially viable for decades? Electric car technology was available, but public policy — organized and led by the oil and gas industry — stifled its commercial adoption. You wouldn’t learn this history in a mechanical engineering class.

To understand the ride-sharing market, an entrepreneur should become an expert on the history of city-based transportation, which would provide her with a deep appreciation and respect for the many challenges of moving people around cities.

This historical knowledge base — foundational for smart business decisions — requires more than Wikipedia research. It demands time to think, analyze, and strategize.

Beyond business, smart people read history to form intelligent opinions about the future. For without a clear understanding of where we have been, it is impossible to chart the right course forward.

If you need proof, just fire up Twitter.

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