If the words, “This is how I/we always do it” are the first ones that come to mind when you are staring down the crossroads of a decision, chances are you’re focusing on the past.
There’s a lot to be learned from the past, to be certain. And, if you’re viewing it from the perspective of “how’s it working now?”, the past is a great place to review those decisions that brought you to the present.
But the past only holds the answers for the opportunities at the time, with the people and resources you had THEN. Unless you are very mindfully making your decisions, how a particular decision impacted you, or your company, is in large part due to those factors present when the decision was made.
It sounds so painfully obvious, but think about the reflexive decisions we make every day.
“We don’t allow that here” or “I don’t do that”. “This is our hiring process” or “We always use this form”.
Either spoken or presumed, words like always and never reflect a stubborn attachment to the past. I believe very strongly that repeating the same actions over and over and anticipating a different outcome are clear signs of a lazy brain. One rooted more in predictable outcomes than in possibilities. The great Albert Einstein called it Insanity.
So, what are my five signs of being rooted in the past?
1) Reflexive Decision Making.
2) Lack of Conscious Choice in Anticipated Outcome.
3) Using Words that Hold You Back.
4) Not Having a Long Term Road Map.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the five signs.
1) Reflexive Decision Making. Have you ever had the experience of knowing, oh-so-clearly, what the correct decision was, only to start second guessing yourself as soon as you made it? I have. It’s a horrible feeling, thinking that another route might’ve been better, but already being committed to the one you’re on. Bad enough if it only impacts you personally; potentially disastrous when your organization is impacted. As much as possible now, I practice these words, “Let me get back to you on that.” Even if I buy myself only a few minutes, it’s a self check and balance against reflexive decision making.
2) Lack of Conscious Choice in Anticipated Outcome. Do you start with the problem or the desired outcome? So many start with the problem. It’s big and emblazoned on every inch of your office when it’s staring you in the face. But the “problem” is just an opportunity to create the future. I realize that sounds hokey, so let’s take this out of the business and/or personal realm and look at the political realm (don’t worry…we’re not actually going THERE). Imagine Congress passes a law. It sounds, on the surface, like a good solution to the problem. And then, predictably, the Law of Unintended Consequences rears its head. See? We can almost all tell when their decisions have been made based on the problem and not on the desired outcome. When we make decisions focused on the problem, we miss out on some amazing solutions.
3) Using Words that Hold You Back. I Can’t. Always. Never. We Don’t. What separates the past, present and future is hopefully not just the passage of time. Who amongst us wants to be that tennis player with 15 years of practice…but who still plays at the beginner level? There’s a huge difference between 15 years and one year repeated 15 times. So, too, with our decision making. We have the capacity to grow as individuals and as business people, which means that using these words keeps us in the past. Try changing your viewpoint, instead. I Could. Sometimes. Today. This Time. We Will.
4) Not Having a Long Term Road Map. Decisions can be like dominoes, can’t they? With each successive decision, the direction of the company (or you) becomes clearer. Things topple. Do the right things topple? Or, is the tail wagging the dog? Unless you have a long term plan, it’s almost impossible to discern how today’s decision will fit in next month, or next year. Instead, what often happens is that you make decisions in a vacuum; frequently using one of the other four items in this list.
5) Haste. Plain and simple. Not taking time to consider where you are, where you want to be and what the desired outcomes are, you may be stuck in that continuous cycle Einstein called Insanity. Yes, we get busy. I’ve done it. You have, too. Unless you’re psychic, hastily made decisions just don’t often stand on their own.
Yet even the best of us, guarding against these five signs of being rooted in the past, will have the occasional decision that renders us speechless as it plays out. And I say, when that happens, put your feet up on your desk, think about a decision that DID go right, and then go and fix the current mess.