Monday, May 18, 2015

Oh, Dear! Does the Past Predict The Future?

“I think that I have an idea…” someone in the group excitedly chimed in.  Everyone sat around in anticipation, as a new idea to help would be extremely beneficial.  It took only a minute to lay out the thought, nothing earth shattering, nothing innovative, yet a good solution to the issue at hand.  “Won’t work,” someone responded before we had a chance to vet out the proposal. 

“What do you mean?” someone asked. 

“Last time we did this, it failed miserably,” was the response. 

I scratched my head, in the couple of years I had been involved, I do not remember this attempt.  I asked, “How long ago was that?”

“Oh, 15, 20 years ago.”

I remember as a kid riding my bicycle and one time the chain detached.  This caused me to pedal furiously with no results.  My brain made that detached popping sound and my mind raced widely trying to understand.

And then came the reasons why today this would not work.  I looked around at the group and they all looked like deer caught in the headlights.

I related this story to someone else.  To paraphrase her response, sometimes it is good to understand the history and the reasons why something happened to gain perspective.  However, that does not mean it applies to today.  As I thought about it, this is not an isolated experience.  I have heard this before.  Why is it that we base potential future results on prior failures?  Are we in the identical situation with exactly the same players?  Have we not learned anything in the time that has passed?  What happened to the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”?  I realize that W.C. Fields restated the quote, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit.  There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”  After a certain amount of time, revisiting a potential solution, taking the time to understand why it failed, especially when that was 15 – 20 years ago, is prudent.

In his book “Think, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman points out that we quickly align situations presented to us with past experiences that are similar to draw quick conclusions.  Because the situation and our prior experiences are similar, but not exactly the same, the conclusions we come to might not be correct.  Eckhart Tolle, in “The Power of NOW” talks about how, as humans, we spend most of our time thinking about past experiences (i.e., mentally reliving the past) and projecting into the future (i.e., in terms of hope, fears, worries, anxieties).  In both examples, there is the lack of looking at our current situation and looking at what is occurring at this moment.

I did realize afterwards, that I too joined The Deer in the Headlights Club.  The answer shocked me, and I know that I repeated it in my head a few times.  Next time, I will be prepared to reply, “That is unfortunate that it did not work in the past.  Today is a new day, different people and situations.  Let’s discuss how we can make it work today.”