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The Trouble With Looking Backward

By Joey Havens

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I was laughing uncontrollably on the back of a golf cart when this blog came to life. We were in Palmetto Bluff, SC for our annual HORNE LLP partner retreat. (By the way, this experience is bucket list material. Highly recommend a visit with a few days in a cottage facing the water—incredible views). 

We were fortunate to have Tom Hood, President and CEO of MACPA and Business Learning Institute, as our facilitator. Our primary objective for the retreat was to further establish a common future view and increase our understanding of the transformation of what we do and how we work. Without a common future view, it’s hard to prioritize what you should be doing now, or anticipate new challenges and opportunities. As Daniel Burrus says, “Your future view will determine your future.”  

Back to why I was laughing on the back of a golf cart. Tom and his wife, Sharon, had arrived a day early to enjoy the experience and spend time with Cathy (my wife, aka Cece) and I. We were headed to dinner and waiting outside our cottages to be picked up on a golf cart. Standing there, we began admiring how beautiful the resort was and looked forward to our ride so we could see more of it. 

Robert (an incredibly positive and delightful person) picked us up on a three seat golf cart. Sharon and Cathy got on the second seat and Tom and I hopped on the back seat together. This third seat faces backward but is very comfortable and easy to load up on. As soon as we loaded, Robert took off for the inn where we had our car for a quick trip to Bluffton. As we started forward, I pointed out the marsh and some other pretty sites. But soon we picked up speed and everything was flying past us before we could even begin to see what it was.

I started laughing and Tom asked what was so funny. “How ironic,” I replied. We are here to establish a solid future view that is windshield focused, but right now, we are getting a full dose of rear view mirror views with things blowing past us. Tom started laughing as we both realized how ironic this was—feeling the helplessness of trying to see things while looking backward was priceless. It cemented in my mind why we must drop the rear view mirror from our strategic planning. Success in the future will not be based on incremental change from our past experiences. This legacy thinking is not sufficient today for the speed of transformation in our businesses. As Gladwell said in Tipping Point, “Change is slow until it’s not!”

We started this golf cart ride slowly and it was okay but once Robert got going, our vision blurred. It was impossible to anticipate the next cottage, bump in the sidewalk, big curve to the left or even the bridge that was in our path because we were positioned on our golf cart with a rear view.

Our legacy planning and future view has been heavily influenced by our past experience—the slow incremental changes of the past 50 years. Just like that third seat was easy to load up and sit, we find a rear view glance that fits our comfort zones. Think about it, our business models have been very successful the last 50 years with incremental thinking and planning. Now, facing transformation at a speed which we have never seen before, we must force ourselves off of the third seat with the rear view. The more we anticipate, the more successful we will be. 

A windshield view, taking into account hard trends like the bump, the curve and the bridge, is critical to a fun ride in our future. Future view must take into account the speed of transformation and the new disruptions to our business models.

For me, it’s impossible to have a credible strategy for growth without a strong windshield view of the future. Do you also struggle with looking backward too much, thinking incrementally, assuming past success equals future success?

Do something crazy to help shake up legacy thinking. Maybe take the management team on a third seat golf cart ride and ask them to anticipate what is ahead. That ride might be priceless. For sure, the rear view mirror approach going forward will be very risky and costly. I’m moving to where I can face forward to see these future opportunities.