A mystery from the great war

Last week, we welcomed 2014. This year, the world will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (also known as the “Great War”).

This reminds me of an old greeting card we once found on my late father’s attic, showing a photo of horse soldiers “in the downs of sand at Nieuport” taken during the “war of 1914-1916.” Uh… 1916?


I think most of us remember from history class that the WWI armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. And still this postcard was saying 1916… Was there a typo on it or what?

When we took a closer look at the flip side of the card, we noticed that it was actually posted (and hence printed before) mid 1917. At that time, nobody knew that the end of the war was still more than a year away.

So, the editor just made a too optimistic assumption about the end date of the war, and included a faulty placeholder for a figure that he didn’t know yet.

Although only a fait divers in the history of the Great War, I can draw a few lessons from this anecdote, that may help you craft your next business presentation. First of all, don’t guess for unknown data, facts or figures (they may turn out blatantly wrong). Also never tell a conclusion before you know how a story really ends. And, finally, rework your content regularly, keep information up-to-date and correct mistakes — yes, I did dug up another postcard, put in the mail a few months later, with the description “war of 1914-1917.”