Business Leadership Quotes that Ain’t So
My wife and I watched the 2015 movie “The Big Short” the other night. The protagonists “future proof” their investments by betting big against the housing market before its 2007-2008 collapse. The film about the 2008 collapse of the U.S. housing bubble used an introductory quote from Mark Twain:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
That quote really spoke to me. It applies just as much to business leadership today as it applied to the failure of the global economy and the Great Recession.
Interestingly, the next morning I went to Quote Investigators, a website that traces quote origins. They found no substantial evidence that Mark Twain ever said or wrote this remark. The earliest similar statement came in 1874 from Josh Billings, a pseudonym of the humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw. Billings wrote, “I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.”
Departing Now: The Old Definition of Future Proof
Well, independent of who said it, the quote takes on a whole new meaning toward future-proofing your business when I add my thought: “It is not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble as much as what you did know 6 months ago that is no longer true.”
This quote reflects back to the reality that from now on, business leadership must look at “future-proofness” in a different way. The future will be a departure from the past, not a projection from the past.
I have been saying this for over 5 years now. And given COVID, Rusia/Ukraine, China/Taiwan, globalization/deglobalization, free trade/tariffs, nearshoring/friendly shoring/reshoring, hurricanes in Los Angeles/drought in Panama, inflation/interest rates, uncertain consumer demand/uncertainty of supply, value of AI or not, peak season or not, inventory overage/shortages, etc., business leaders certainly must realize that uncertainty is the only thing that is certain.
Business Leadership: Building for Success with Insight
The ramifications of perpetual uncertainty were the premise behind my 2022 book Insightful Leadership: In the context about the quote on what “ain’t so,” the insight business leaders have about the future will dictate your ability to future proof your enterprise. What you know about the past will likely dictate failure.
So, it is a good thing Mark Twain did not say what some have attributed to him. And even if he did, in today’s uncertain times he would be wrong.
What Business Leaders Need to Know – By Mark Twain
So, not to spread rumors, but I recently met a retired riverboat pilot on a paddle boat going down the Mississippi River. His complexion was fair. His eyes were blue. He wore a white suit and a bow tie. He sported a striking, bushy white mustache and goatee.
He told me: “The problem today ain’t so much the things that a person thinks he knows, it’s the things he thinks he knows that have changed, and the person does not realize they have changed, and they ain’t no longer so.”
Did I dream that? Seems I remember the person’s last name was Twain. Don’t believe I heard his first name. Maybe I need to go back to Quote Investigator?