“Study problems, not periods” appears in Deirdre N. McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues (Univ. Chicago, 2006) at xiv, where she quotes an unnamed historian. The injunction for historians applies to managers of law departments. It is not very useful to talk about “The Decade of Formation” (the ‘70s and the coalescence of capable in-house legal departments), or the “Decade of Automation” (the ‘90s and matter management systems), or to impugn myself “The Decade of Data” (See my post of June 16, 2010: prediction that measurement will dominate this decade.).
Time periods arbitrarily carve out units of analysis, but problems thread throughout. The perennial problems of management – how to nurture professional satisfaction without promotions, whether to invest in software, why people need direction to get along – make more sense to ponder than manufactured generalizations about arbitrary periods of time. The phrase “The Roaring Twenties” captures a zeitgeist, but it started before the ‘20s and lasted long after. Those who generalize around time periods usually fit the facts to the fiction, a Procrustean nip or stretch to support the broad statement, and privilege cleverness over usefulness.