Experiencing a recurring problem? The solution may be in your past!
July 30, 2014
The impact of the past on future accomplishments has been known for millenia as proposed by Confucius. Every action-oriented leader is future focused: vision, strategies, goals and intents are all implements of the leader. Yet, if one simply charges forward with no regard for whence one comes, there is a real danger of repeating mistakes that will usurp that focus. There is a need therefore to look back to move forward. This is one of the elements of strategic thinking and heeds to what the wise ones of old have been advising. So in this article we share how to "think-in-time" and why it is so important.
Thinking in time
Take a look at this YouTube video. It was created by Jeremy McDonald and half of it was filmed 20 years earlier and the net result is an interview with oneself. The video is only 3:45mins and it is be a blast to see the ensuing interview. As you're watching this, see what you can take away from it with regards to thinking in time...
When we run this video in our classes, two important points stand out (of course the third one is don't let Molly chew up your storm trooper figurine!):
1. we are the result of every decision that we had made, and
2. by looking back, we can identify missed opportunities - as with the cast of characters McDonald used to draw.
The important point here is that as we march on to fulfil our destiny, we may forget some of the things we had done, some of the decisions we had made, and some of the ideas we had curated. So, if we keep on bumping up to the same outcomes year in and year out, it is important to see just how we got here and, to overcome that, what we can do differently. After all, it was Albert Einstein who said: "Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result."
Applying thinking in time
1. Identify your intent.
Intent is the primary element of strategic thinking and it plays out in all situations. Start by identifying what exactly you are trying to achieve.
2. Identify the events and decisions that led us to this position
Draw a grid with 4 columns. Name the first column "Events/Decisions"; the next one "Description"; then "Implications" and finally "What would I do differently". The first two columns requires us to identify what has been happening; the third column is to articulate the impact of the decisions/events vis-a-vis our intent.
3. What we could do differently
By articulating the implications of our decisions and events, we can see how our situation had been shaped from the past, and with this vantage point, ask ourselves what we could do differently to put ourselves on track with our intent. That is the most important part of thinking in time - learning from the past to project into the future. And that is what we put down in the fourth column.
I was working with the business owner of a trading company. He called us in because, if there was a prize for consistency, he would win it. Every year for the past eight years he manages to pull in $300,000 in revenue and return a $30,000 profit. The numbers were almost identical which brings one to believe that he has not done anything differently over the past 8 years. And he was expecting growth! So he has not been meeting his intent for 8 years!
Using the template, we mapped out what he had been doing over the past 8 years and we came to the conclusion that he was more involved moving products than he was in finding new markets. He has relied on his current customers without growing his client-base. He traded across a narrow product range because that was in his comfort zone and he has particular product knowledge there. However, he failed to see both the movement of the market and the obsolescence of the technology he was hawking. He was fortunate that his clients, and their clients, were still using the more traditional products. Yet is was not difficult to see how soon his client base will start to dwindle, pushing him out of the market.
By applying thinking in time, he came to see his situation more strategically, and realised that it was his LACK of marketing that caused him to not achieve his intent.
We are creatures of habit, and if we had established a certain way of doing things, it would be difficult for us to change that unless we looked at it both strategically and critically. By diving deeper into what we have been doing and what decisions we made to get us to where we are, we may be able to uncover what is causing us to experience what we are and find new ways of dealing with that.