“In times of turbulence, the greatest danger isn’t the turbulence – it’s to act with yesterday’s logic.” – Peter Drucker
One of the things that’s great about humans is that we can learn from our past mistakes. One of the things that’s not great about humans is that we can become mesmerized by our past successes. We have the ability to change course when things don’t go well, but sometimes once things go well we assume we never have to change course again.
Leaders are as guilty of that as anyone. When I’m in a meeting with leadership teams or management groups, and some kind of issue comes up, the first question that is almost always asked is some variation of “How have we handled this in the past?” If the previous experience was fairly positive, then the solution usually is to “do it just like last time.”
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t look to our past experience for help with current challenges, or that when something has worked in the past that we should immediately abandon it. What I’m suggesting is that it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that once we solve a problem, we can solve it that exact same way for the next fifty years.
Circumstances change. People change. Social norms change. The reality is that no matter how much we’d like it to be true, we really don’t ever face the exact problem twice. There is always some variable, some changing motive, some new reality. The world evolves, and our solutions need to evolve too.
Think about an issue you’re currently facing. It’s OK to look at your past experiences for guidance – in fact, that’s a great place to start. But then ask yourself what’s different about this situation. What has changed, either inside or outside of your organization? How do you need to change your response in order to achieve the best outcome?
The reality is that this is true in our personal lives as well as our professional ones. Don’t let your life or your career become a said story of you trying to squeeze 2010 solutions into the year 2030. An evolving world calls for evolving thinking. Learn from the past, but make sure you’re not stuck in it.