Don’t Repeat the Past

In business or any endeavor the past should remain just that; the past. You’ve likely heard the quote by Sara Shepherd, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” or one of many variations from numerous other individuals. Let’s think about the implications.

Why Not Repeat the Past?

Don’t repeat the past is something we should keep in mind as we manage a business. Now don’t misunderstand me, there are of course many things that we continue to do the same way for a long time. On the other hand there are some things that seem to be in constant flux. An example would be products. While some products have a fairly long life cycle, we are kidding ourselves if we think something will sell forever. Although the basic product may continue, we will undoubtedly see changes to it or the ways it is delivered. Consider something as simple as a food product. Even if the product itself remains essentially the same, how people purchase will certainly change. Perhaps packaging is different or where a purchase is made will change. Failure to accept that changes will occur sets us up to be left behind.

Other things we can more easily see how they change. How many answering service companies are there now? People have moved on to messaging systems that record messages for them in a variety of ways. What about television? Do you still receive content the same way you did 15 or 20 years ago? Likewise, how many people now write almost no checks to pay bills, but instead make electronic payments?

The point is, things and methods are going to change, like it or not.

The Future is Unknown

While we sometimes can make pretty good predictions about what customers might want, often we end up way off base. We must strive to remain flexible if we are to adapt to changes in a timely manner. Don’t repeat the past is a concept that will keep us in a mindset that drives home the point that things will change and that we better be ready for changes when they come.

Does Everything Change?

There is one area where I think it is a mistake to change. That is in the arena of principles. By principles I mean personal and business values such as integrity, consideration of others, etc. Principles, at least well defined ones, are unchanging in their essence. That is not to say we don’t something realize that we need to refine how we state a principle, but that is more to make the principle clearer rather than to change it. We may also realize that an important principle has been missing from how we operate personally or as a business. As a result we add that principle, but if we think about it we have probably almost unconsciously been operating by that principle all along. Principles are an area where don’t repeat the past is a bad idea. By definition principles are unchanging. In fact, it is those very principles that help us determine if a change we are considering is one that should be made.

At your company do you accept that things are going to always continue to change, but at the same time recognize that there will always be certain unchangeable things that are necessary? Do you understand that believing that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior is often a misguided statement?

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As always, your comments are welcomed.

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