As long as we continue to only use or heavily weigh our past experience to interpret the present circumstance, we will condemn our organizations and ourselves to staying “inside the box.” As much as I am tired of that old cliche of “think outside the box,” the sentiment is not only true, but critical to implement if we are to survive and thrive at work and in our personal lives.
Let’s examine this a bit. There is a parable told to young leaders about the renowned business mentor who was asked by his mentee, “How do I avoid making mistakes?” The mentor’s response was, “By gaining experience.” After some thought, the mentee once again asked a question, “And how do I gain experience?” To which the wise mentor replied, “By making mistakes.” The difficulty here with this all too true advice is that we tend to remember our mistakes and convince ourselves that they define how things will always be in the future. Some of us will do the same with our successes. Because we decide that we know exactly what will happen given similar circumstances, and because we are told that wise people do not repeat mistakes, we take actions based solely on our past and thereby limit the possibilities for responding to the present circumstance. We condemn ourselves to entirely predictable futures.
Certainly we cannot ignore the past, and we should learn from our mistakes. And we also need to be more diligent in determining if things are really different before we are too certain about outcomes. We also don’t want to make the usual mistake of “bending the facts” or ignoring the reality of our circumstances to fit our past experiences. We see it when we believe it rather than the other way around. So as we take our past experiences and make them the truth about how things will be, then we see only supporting evidence.
So what are you doing to make sure you and your organization do not cling so hard to past experiences that you are limiting the options you see. How often are you hearing, “We tried that before”? Are you and your team working to clear the conventional wisdom and look at things from a fresh point of view?