“1917” was a fantastic movie. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend it, even for someone like my wife, who unlike me, doesn’t wonder whether Helmuth von Moltke executed the Schlieffen Plan as intended, if Gavrilo Princip was a terrorist or hero, or who was responsible for the disaster at Gallipoli.


WW1 is a fascinating time period when 19th century thinking and strategies merged with 20th century technology and machinery. It brought about the concept of the Law of Historical Nature, which states that no earlier army can beat a later one.  At the time, this was a relatively new concept. Until the early 20th century, historians could debate who would win battles between Alexander the Great and Napoleon, because not much has changed from 344 BC to the Mid 19th century, except for maybe the cannon and the rifle.


By the time of WW1, governments began to see the diminishing utility of producing wildly expensive weapons of war that in previous eras were seemingly indestructible. For example, take a late 19th century large battleship. Up until earlier decades this could be put into use for half a century, justifying the investment. In the early 20th century, it could be easily sunk in seconds by a submarine, which could be produced at a fraction of the cost and was more effective. The focus shifted away from building bigger bulkier weapons to technology and recruiting for highly skilled positions. Recruiting became the focal point of war and it expanded at a rapid pace.


Let’s connect that dynamic to today’s HR and business management. Does managing technology, recruiting, and maintaining morale sound familiar as a challenge?  Those of us working in HR and benefits are not fighting a world war, but from a strategic planning perspective, the challenges faced at the core are similar. How do we find quality people, train, pay, equip, and manage them, maintain moral, and subsequently pummel our competition?  Given that we are 20 years into the 21st century, ask yourself the question…If I were competing for talent against my own company from 10, 15, or 20 years ago, who would win? Can you, with confidence say that no earlier version of my company can beat the later? What about competing with the new startup, who might have lower overhead and a technological advantage? Are you the battleship or the submarine?


What about from a benefits perspective? Changes are occurring at a rapid pace. The benefits marketplace has changed more in the past 24 months than it has in the previous two decades. Are you operating your HR and benefits program in the early 21st century with a 20th century mindset? Is your benefits package the equivalent of a 19th century battleship competing in the marketplace against forward thinking companies who offer less expensive, more effective submarine style benefits?


Consider the following table comparing 20th century and 21st century benefits:



20th Century

21st Century

Medical insurance

  • One size fits all
  • No price transparency
  • Devalues low cost effective primary care
  • Obtained from large insurance companies
  • Flexible and customizable
  • Open, transparent, local
  • Value-based design
  • Focus on primary care
  • Employer built, unbundled, transparent vendors

Dental and Vision

  • Premium-based
  • $1000-$1500 max benefit
  • Carrier designed benefits
  • Subject to networks
  • Account based
  •  Tax-advantaged
  • Customizable by the employee

Life and Disability

  • Commoditized
  • Not Benchmarked
  • Over emphasis on premium


  • Customized to employee population
  • Actively evaluated
  • Benchmarked to industry


  • Transactional
  • Table or Spreadsheet centric
  • Acts as agent for insurance carrier
  • Agency Focused

  • Transformational
  • Client Focused
  • Creates plans, customized to the client




I often encounter employers who do not want to review their benefits program due to the fact that they may have either “shopped” it in previous years or recently changed their programs. While it is certainly not an exercise that anyone enjoys, perhaps it might make sense to increase the frequency of these benefit evaluations given the rapid rate of change in the industry.


The technological, tactical, humanitarian, and ideological impact of World War 1 permanently changed the geo-political landscape. We are still feeling the effects of the Great War today. The practical lessons learned by studying this time period can have practical application to your business. Do not leave the Law of Historical Nature up for debate as it relates to your business. End the argument with a resounding NO!