Hindsight is 20/20, until it isn’t.

What if hindsight does not work? What is the new pathway forward? Sometimes, hindsight can become a liability instead of an asset.Every industry was unsettled in 2020. Leaders were left asking the question, what do we do now and how do we do it?” Those who answer it by looking backward risk their businesses stalling or failing altogether.

It can be uncomfortable to plan for the future if you don’t look at the past to inform those plans. In fact, a year like 2020 offered endless opportunities for looking forward and asking new questions, which apply to both individuals and companies, such as:

To have a better future, what can we do differently?

How and what have we outgrown?

What do we need to grow into?

Discomfort of Looking Forward

Planning for the future can feel uncomfortable. Unknowns and the deep desire for certainty can cause this discomfort. Sadly, and all too often, executives, business owners and leaders approach solving problems or challenges by doing what they did in the past. A conversation for them might sound like this:

Manager: 

“We are having a productivity issue and not meeting our delivery dates.”

Director:

 “What have we done before when this happened?”

In business, things go wrong, slow down or begin to change. The approach of looking back does not always work . It may be time to innovate and do something completely new or different to get an outcome in line with today’s landscape. What do we need to do to get there?

In the article 50 Companies that Failed to Innovate familiar names like Kodak, Blockbuster, Radioshack and others didn’t ask this question. They counted on the past to guide them into the future, while missing a powerful principle: reflect on the past and innovate for the future. Vital components for innovation include listening to what your industry is saying, where they are going and what your customers need now. Be willing to pivot from your history to boldly embrace your preferred future. Companies who did this went on to next levels of success. Others died out and became corporations of the past.

Here are a few case studies:

  • While Netflix was shipping out DVD’s to their consumer’s homes, Blockbuster figured their physical stores were enough to please their customers. As a leader of the movie rental market for years, management didn’t see why they should change their strategy.
  • In the early 1990s, IBM failed to adjust to the personal computer revolution and their downfall began. The company adjusted their focus and hardware became the priority rather than software solutions. Today, after going through several transitions, IBM is one of the most powerful names in enterprise software. They turned it around with new management. An ending that most companies don’t see.
  • Borders Group opened its first bookstore in 1971 and they were a success for years. But in the mid- 2000s Borders failed to adapt to new technologies and never embraced the Internet like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. As more people began to order their books online, the fading of a giant like Borders was inevitable

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Why did Carrabas thrive? Why did Macaroni Grill struggle? My husband and I could tell that Macaroni Grill wouldn’t make it. The ordering for take out was slow and clumsy, no delivery mechanism and pick up process was awkward. One night we decided to hit Carrabas for a quick bite. This customer experience was a breeze. Take out was buzzing. They personally delivered the right items after incorrectly filling it. What a difference!

A business leader needs courage to adapt. Notice changing technology, yo-yoing markets, unpredictable supply changes, finicky consumer purchasing behaviors, among dozens of other factors and adapt. Why is it hard for some companies to make the shift and innovate while others hold fast to their fixed mindset, instead of embracing a growth mindset as Carol Dweck lays out in her book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success?

Perhaps they are operating in cognitive biases. This is a way of thinking that keeps the company stuck in repeating the same things over and over and resisting the signs that tell them it’s time for a change.

What do cognitive biases sound like? Here’s an idea:

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“We know what our customers want.”

“Millennials are just too demanding.”

“We should know what to make, not our customers!”

“What’s the KPI for this innovation project?”

“Middle management won’t let that fly.”

“The CEO needs to validate it first.”

“It’s too uncertain, we need a spreadsheet.”

“That’s too disruptive.”

“How do we know it would even work?”

“Our development cycles are too long for that.”

From the article 16 cognitive biases that can kill your decision making:

Our prior experiences and expertise cause ‘errors’ that limit our ability to think divergently and generate new ideas from a subconscious level. Nobel prize-winning research by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky popularized the term ‘anchoring’ which refers to these deeply held biases and how they result in irrational decision making within economics. The result within innovation is less creative thoughts and decisions, causing us to jump to less than optimal outcomes because our brains have evolved to instinctively reduce uncertainty and keep us on the ‘safe path’ where ever possible.

That makes sense, but begs the question, “what do you do when the safe path has been blown up and there is no way to get to the other side without a new path?

Next Steps

While the steps that follow are not exhaustive, they will give you a start:

1. Decide that you will do what it takes to move advance rather than just survive. Innovate to avoid becoming a Blockbuster.

2. Recognize your own biases. Where does your resistance come from?

3. Collaborate with an outside resource, such as a coach or other professional, who can help you see or think differently.

From where you stand right nowyou have a choice to lean into and build your preferred future. Before you can do so, it is important to believe that your future can be much better than your past. Your past holds your historical data. Planning for the future is inspired by your hope for tomorrow.

When Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, there was a point when they wanted to turn and go back. They were walking away from all they knew. Innovation and looking forward was not on their minds, survival was. They did not know that they were walking toward a better future.

The message here is simple, but not necessarily easy. Doing what you’ve always done will get you more of the same. Expanding your mindset to think about the kind of future you want to experience will cause you to ask questions and get curious about what might be in front of you instead of looking to what is behind you.

Hindsight is 20/20 – most of the time.

However, sometimes the answers you need will be found by looking forward and exploring what’s next. Brene’ Brown calls that “Courageous Leadership.”

I call it looking toward your preferred future.

I would be happy to explore your preferred future with you – simply reach out and we can set up a complimentary call.

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