Victors’ History

by Jin, 12-03-08 // 3 comments

“History is written by the victors.”

-Winston Churchill

I love reading stories and quotes of those who are accomplished. Since grade school, I was taught to memorize the quotes of the famous in literature class. As I got older, I started to digest the meanings of the quotes, rather than just memorizing them. Quotations are inspirational to me, because they can sum up a lifetime’s worth of experience in one sentence.

Since I began my interest in the technology field, there had been numerous people whose philosophy I find inspirational and fascinating. However, as I gained more knowledge and experience in the field, I’ve found that quite often, words from some of those who are accomplished are merely becoming a pretty sound bite to the ears, rather than having any practical value to me.

We have a natural tendency to treat the words of the successful, or victors of their field, as the gospel. We rarely question them. After all, their success speaks for itself, no questioning needed. What’s often ignored is the fact that the victors came from different backgrounds, had different luck, brewed their success in different settings. It’s easy for them to say “I’ve made it, do what I did and you will too!”

One of my favorite blogs is Signal vs. Noise by 37signals. It’s admired by many, because of their agile philosophy and success. I find many of their postings very interesting and refreshing. 37s is also famous for their attitude and outrageous claims. Earlier this summer, their designer made a post titled Why We Skip Photoshop. Jason listed the reasons why they skip Photoshop(or any graphical software) and go straight to HTML/CSS mockups. The reasons were very valid, for WHAT THEY DO. However, it was a bit disturbing to see many commenters saying “oh I’ll try it too!” In reality, creating a web site for a client without showing a visual presentation first is highly unpractical. It’s a different case for 37signal’s web apps.

I can go on to list more examples, but I think you get the point.

Ultimately, we’ll have to find our own paths to success. We all have different situations in life. I think it’s important to focus on the quotes not the quoters, the teaching not the teachers. That way, we’ll learn from victors’ history more objectively. Sometimes I wish there were more written life lessons from the famous “losers.” I think they’d be quite helpful to me.

“It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing.”

- Steve Jobs, at age 29, in Playboy, February 1985

background photo from Genghis Khan BBC


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Bryan Chain 12-03-08

It is very easy for those who have made it, in any capacity into a position of wealth, respect, or power to give advice, and expect you to be able to follow in their footsteps, but that is almost never the case.

You can read quotes and use wisdom, and you should, but only use it to help pave your own way through life. No one else has the answers for you.

Dmitry 12-05-08

I think you can learn a lot from their experiences and what they teach (the victors), as long as you apply it in the right circumstances. If you’re making a website for a client then you may not want to rush towards skipping Photoshop as Jason Fried suggests, but if you’re making the latest web app you might seriously consider his advice. Knowing the context is just common sense and it would be your mistake if you misread it :)

Jin 12-05-08

Brian, Dmitry, you both are correct on focusing the context. That’s the point I’m trying to make. I just see too many people rushing in with the “me too!” mentality these days. I know I did at some point :)