Looking in the Rear View Mirror: 1 Big Mistake Leaders Make When Considering the Past

Photo courtesy of Marcolm, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Marcolm, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I'm reading an interesting book right now by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action. I just started the third chapter, which addresses memory being substituted for thinking. In other words, doing what we've always done without reflecting on whether it's a good idea.

I think we, as leaders, make one big mistake when considering the past:

We fail to ask ourselves why something worked or didn't work.

Many organizations blindly do what has been done in the past, but just as many refuse to do something that has already been tried because it didn't work at some point. Times change. Circumstances change. People change. Organizations change. Past successes or failures are only helpful when we examine their context and try to align our current situational analysis with the situational analysis from the past. Then, and only then, can we make an informed decision about whether to use a previously successful approach or resurrect one that failed.

I'm all for doing something that worked (if it looks like it will work again), but I'm also for trying something that failed in the past (if the situational analysis suggests it could get a different result this time around). The point is, we can't be held hostage to the past - either the stunning successes or the debilitating failures.  

Here's to thinking clearly about the past,
Becky