Never Fight The Last War

In 1929 Lieutenant Colonel J. L. Schley, of the Corps of Engineers wrote in The Military Engineer: “there is a tendency in many armies to spend the peace time studying how to fight the last war”
This quote, often since repeated gives voice to the common error of preparing for old challenges rather than the new.  It’s easy to do.  We are a pattern recognising species after all.  People instinctively react to what’s arou
nd them by relating it to something they already understand.  They know what already happened and look to see those previous patterns played out again.

The quote is often tracked back to the Japanese warrior and writer Miyamoto Musashi.  Most well known for his double bladed fitting style and record of 61 undefeated duels, Munisai, a legend in his home country, wrote “The Book of Five Rings” in which he says:

“When you and your opponent are engaged in combat which is dragging on with no end in sight, it is crucial that you should come up with a completely different technique. By refreshing your mind and techniques as you continue to fight your opponent, you fill find an appropriate rhythm-timing with which to defeat him. Whenever you and your opponent become stagnant, you must immediately employ a different method of dealing with him in order to overcome him.”
The lessons imparted by this 17th Century swordsman were echoed by Former US Secretary of State John Bolton - when he said “Politicians, like generals, have a tendency to fight the last war.”
Consider WWI.  Germany, France, Russia, Britain & their associated allies entered on horseback.  Lessons learned in the 18th & 19th centuries played out with cavalry used to outflank enemies and artillery supporting the advance.

The problem was, these tactics had been made obsolete and nobody knew it.  Machine guns, long range bombardments and trains resulted in troops getting bogged down in trenches.  The war stagnated.  This stalemate was itself broken by the deployment of poison gas, airplanes and tanks.  Generals fought a 19th Century war and men died.

We’re 12 years removed from the 2008 crash.  We all have experiences of what happened there.  Credit dried up, the market died, families lost their livelihood.  We responded by cutting costs, battening down the hatches and waiting for the market to restart; that took years.

Right now, you’re probably experiencing the exact same emotions you did 12 years ago.  Your business was just starting to come around after a long drawn out recession.  It’s not back to where it was, but you were hopeful that it would.  You’d gotten busier and were starting to take on more staff.  Now you’ve got to deal with this - Covid-19.

Mike DelPrete is often heard saying "the property market moves slow, but it’s never moved as fast as  this.”   Well this holds double true now.  What happened in months in 2008 is playing out in days now; the market is in fast-forward.  So before you make any decisions and commit your troops to battle consider this.  Are you on horseback?  Are there trains?  Can you get your hands on a tank?

This is not 2008.  The world has moved on - substantially.  Unfortunately many estate agencies have been in aspic for the last decade.  Looking back to what they had and looking to regain it.  The shock of loss is real and the desire to regain it is double real.  However, for many this is being done without regard to whether that model was right for this market.  PropTech has revolutionised the way businesses can operate.  It’s time now for operators to adopt these new tools.   To best survive this battle, don’t fight the last.  The only constant in life is change.