Hindsight does not lead to foresight
“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got” Henry Ford
The human brain is primed for efficiency and as a result we are habitual creatures. We have the ability to make shortcuts in our thinking to enable us to think, analyse, decide and act so quickly that we don’t realise we are computing these distinct stages. In fact, our ability to shortcut means that we often refer to ourselves as being on autopilot, or unconsciously acting. You must have driven to work and then realised that you have no recollection of the all too familiar journey – that’s autopiloting in action.
Imagine making a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. You get up, put the kettle on, get the mug, milk, all still whilst half asleep, and you do it successfully. You do so because you have followed that process successfully many times before and your brain has formed a habit to make you more efficient. In a predictable environment you can operate most common tasks in an unconscious state, to the point that you don’t really know you are acting or behaving in the way we do until someone asks us a simple question, Why?
Don’t get me wrong, this ability we have is invaluable. Imagine how little we would have progressed if we have to mentally follow steps or instructions in our own minds everyday. So as a survival and evolutionary basis, this ability to shortcut and habit form is essential.
What is more, once we have mastered a technique, we love to expand and grow and try new things. Variety is the spice of life after all.
But back to the coffee. All is going well until we throw a little unpredictability into the environment and suddenly we awaken. Perhaps you slept through the wakeup call, or the milk has run out, and now you are forced to focus. You need to think and choose a course of action before you act. Then the children come down and start asking you questions, or the pet pesters you for food, and you simply can’t focus. The normal morning routine has turned into a pressure cooker and you are about to blow. OK maybe that is only in my house, but I am sure you get the point.
The smallest amount of unpredictability can have a big impact on us. In a world of constant change, small but frequent changes can make the world seem chaotic, stressful, unstable and unsafe.
The coffee cup is simply a metaphor for what is happening every day in the workplace. Many leaders who once knew how to lead successfully are now finding new situations or environments where they can’t draw on experience, because they have never been in this place, in this world, with these people before. They operate in an environment where hindsight no longer necessarily leads to foresight. In any given day you may face so many variables and changes, that techniques that once worked for you may feel like they are now are not working. The business world is now a VUCA world.
Volatile: Change happens rapidly and on a large scale.
Uncertain: The future cannot be predicted with any certainty or precision.
Complex: Challenges are influenced by many factors, and there is rarely a single point of failure or process. The networks, processes and causes are intertwined and complicated.
Ambiguous: This all leads to ambiguity, with little clarity over what events mean and what the impact or effect will be.
The stress we live with
For humans it can stressful to live in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In times of change we turn to what we know is safe and consistent, and in turn we look to our leaders to be our constant. Never have leaders felt such responsibility. Doing things the way they have always been done may make your people feel safe, and let’s be honest, it makes you feel safe, but todays leaders need more than hindsight.
Collective Leadership holds the answer
The business world no longer needs one leader. The business world and world as a whole needs collective leadership. There has been a paradigm shift whereby leadership was once assigned to a single person or role, is now shifting to collective leadership. No one person can know enough, create enough ideas and solutions, or have the right vision and mission alone. Leadership now and for the future requires a collective process that is spread throughout organisations, teams and networks. Sharing others hindsight, experience, ideas and innovation is how you can lead in uncertainty.
Collective Leadership is a strategic choice, and the responsibility starts at the top.