Past is NO way to the Future

by Guy Ralfe on March 24, 2010

In many aspects of life we look to the past performance to gauge the expected future performance. Not to be confused with the warning label on all financial institution advertisements “”Past performance is no indication of future returns”. Ironically though, every financial product sold is positioned based on its past performance. We see this reference to the past particularly in sports, where carefully compiled statistics are processed and constantly fed back during commentaries. In hiring interviews people are often asked how they handled a past situation to get an indication of what could be expected in the future.

Of particular memory was the New England Patriots winning streak in the 2007 NFL season where they won 18 straight games leading up to the Super Bowl. Their past record had been perfect up to that point and it was hard to believe that it wouldn’t continue through the Super Bowl game. I can remember the optimism and near certainty going into the game (even though I knew nothing about the sport of Football having been brought up on Rugby) just based on the historical performance. Unfortunately that Super Bowl was not to be for the Patriots.  Up to the point of losing the Super Bowl game, the historical statistics had been brandished around with such hype in the media, news and commentary, then suddenly they became obsolete and no longer relevant and the world immediately moved on. At times the statistics seem to appear as certainties/facts and you see the future as such.

What we tend to forget is that even though it is the Patriots playing there are some fundamental changes taking place between the games that from an objective point of view would not have us so focused on these statistics of the past to predict the future. The patriots only made up half the game, the New York Giants had also fought their way through to the Super Bowl and rightfully had their statistics to call upon.

This applies directly to business also, just because a situation turned out one way has little to no bearing on the next situation unless it is identical – has all the same players, having the same concerns and ambitions. What we can do however is learn from the experience and keep it in our background as we navigate our way through similar situations. The distinction is that the statistics/ past experiences/ history are kept in our background and should not become the lens through which we navigate our future situations.

This leads me to share an experience just recently where Himanshu Jhamb and I were collaborating on one of our upcoming Active Garage projects. A clear request had been made of me via email to perform some functional testing. Himanshu inquired on my progress to which I replied something like “ Previously when I have offered my help or provided feedback I had been passed over  so I did not feel it was urgent to partake in this request or that any input would be considered so I haven’t done any testing”.  Thankfully Himanshu set me straight by saying “ Guy! you are speaking a number of things not mentioned in the email but clearly they are in your head…” It was only at that point that I suddenly realized that I was looking through the lens of the past in approaching the future and this severely hampered my ability to make an objective assessment and my actions were not appropriate for the situation – the stats suddenly became useless!

Keep the past as knowledge to reference, then deal with the situation at hand working with the future in mind. This way you can build respect, trust and opportunities.

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