A Lesson From an Unlikely Forefather (originally posted November 2, 2018)

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Gaining an opponent’s perspective is one of the most powerful weapons one can have at his disposal. One with an understanding of one’s adversary can utilize it to combat their moves or preparations. One with that weapon can see with another’s eyes to share their viewpoints on a situation and their surroundings.

If, say, you had the opportunity to call plays in a game with the other team’s playbook in your hands, that would give you an immeasurable advantage… right?

The same is true in politics, business and personal life. And you don’t even need to find yourself in an opponent’s head. Perspective is always a huge benefit.

Knowing customer trends, wishes, needs and budgets are all part of knowing their perspective.

So, to contemplate how that works and how to gain such a weapon, today we’re going to try and put ourselves in the shoes of someone you have certainly heard of… but maybe not known well.

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Picture this: you’re John Hancock, well-respected Bostonian merchant in 1965.

You spent your whole life following in your uncle’s footsteps. He had raised you after your parents died many years earlier. He put you through Harvard College a decade earlier. When he passed, you took over his lucrative import-export business.

Now, you had already built that business up to the point where money was no matter to you. You lived in luxury. You even spent your hard-earned fortune on public projects.

You weren’t, however, a politician… or even a politically minded person. You were the quintessential businessman. Your dealings with the British were your livelihood. You were in charge of exporting your countrymen’s goods. And you were loyal to the crown. Your trade deal with King George was prospering.

You lived through what became known as the “salutary neglect.” This was a concept that the Brits didn’t need to pay mind to the American colonies. And that worked just fine for you. They were trading partners, but let you govern yourself.

But the situation in England became a bit dire after the conclusion of the French and Indian War on the western side of the Atlantic and the Seven Years’ War on the eastern. These wars drained the British coffers.

Looking around their “empire on which the sun never sets,” the Brits found the colonies in North America, who were active participants in the aforementioned wars — although loyally on England’s side for them.

And they came gunning for you…. you specifically. You built a fortune from trade. England decided they wanted a bigger cut.

Parliament passed the Currency Act of 1764. This law protected British merchants at your expense. Each colony had issued its own currency to pay for previous British wars. The Currency Act forbad the issuance of such currencies to pay down those debts. That put a huge economic burden on colonies, especially your beloved Massachusetts. More to the point, that shattered your business.

Now, you were left without options. Your business was suffering from this new intrusion into colonial affairs by the British government. So, despite the distaste in your mouth, you reached out to the politicians… including Samuel Adams, a man who had publicly mocked your expensive tastes.

After consulting with these soon-to-be revolutionaries, you ran for and won the office of Boston selectman. But even this position didn’t help you.

In 1768, the British seized one of your ships claiming its cargo was illegally unloaded without paying taxes… the very ones that were the precursors of the now infamous Stamp and Tea Acts.

This tale of yours set you down the path to one of the most influential revolutionaries in history. A few years after these taxes became too much, you fought on and was chosen to represent Massachusetts at the Second Continental Congress… making you officially an outlaw.

******

The rest is a story we’re all familiar with.

Poor John Hancock. All he wanted to do is keep his uncle’s business in the family… pass it down to his children.

He hated politics. But King George forced him to defend everything he worked to build.

So, what perspective can we gain by this journey inside the Constitution’s first signatory’s mind?

No, we aren’t suggesting any political recourse like those colonists took to settle their era’s problems. The two situations are certainly not identical.

We are, however, comparing the idea of what goes through the mind of a businessman in an impossible environment.

No one expects great big changes to their company’s marketplace like tariffs, taxes or game-changing technologies. That was true in 1774 and remains to today. But Hancock had to adapt.

Maybe this previously successful business owner could have diversified into publishing, for instance. Or, he could have simply retired with his wealth.

But instead of giving up, he joined the fight to defend what he and his uncle built.

There’s no doubt, as we enter into this week, we’ll hear forecasters, pundits and “experts” tell us just how everything has changed… or that the new Congress will do this, that or the other thing that’s terrible (no matter which party takes power).

We’ll hear others of their ilk explain that October was the precursor to another Great Recession. And we’re standing at the economic precipice.

We aren’t John Hancock. But we should think as he did. Build and defend. It’s the most American story there is.

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