I see a trend that’s leading us all in the wrong direction, and the trend seems to be to learn from the past and then try to repeat it. Input 1 + Input 2 will equal Output Y. Like some sort of equation.
What could possibly go wrong?
We appear to have been caught in a learning loop. What seems to happen is this: an innovative frontline manager who is in touch with his current environment does something creative and new, and it works. Sometime later it gets publicised – perhaps in a book, a whitepaper, a survey; maybe vociferous consultants crop up who are experts in this new business theory. We all learn about this piece of history, consider it an absolute truth, and try to impose it on our future. In doing so, we lose sight of the fact that the base data is 18 months old, it was never an absolute truth – just an interpretation of events at that time, and our circumstances are now different. We fail to use our new knowledge of history as a foundation for doing something innovative and creative and new for our own future.
For example, according to the ‘email guru’ wisdom, the best time to conduct email campaigns was Tuesday afternoon, followed by Thursday afternoon. Firstly, there is the question of the authenticity and degree to which Tuesday and Thursday were better in the first place. Was the research data statistically significant? And if so, were the original results something like:
Day Email Opens
Only the statistically naïve would find anything conclusive in these results I would suggest.
Nevertheless, because of the logical stretch to an over-simplified pseudo-scientific revelation, my inbox is now virtually unusable on Tuesdays and Thursdays due to a deluge of emails – all with half-baked samey ‘Challenger Sales’ approaches, trying to teach me something about my business, which, generally speaking, I already know. I don’t have time for these emails now. Tuesdays and Thursdays are not the best days to approach me with a speculative email. Saturday morning is probably better.
At the heart of this is, I believe, the misguided conviction that management, or business, or sales, is ‘true’ science. It’s not. (See Karl Popper – The Logic of Scientific Discovery). It’s not because it involves people, and people don’t behave rationally or consistently. Knowledge changes our behaviour. It means the same inputs will not always have the same outputs. It means that what worked last year probably won’t work this year. It means what worked yesterday may not work today. We live with uncertainty.
Most critically, it means the majority of business literature is probably out of date by the time we get to read it, because the world has moved on. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying business literature is pointless. I should know - I'm an avid reader of it. It is an invaluable shortcut to other people’s experience and in my view, it’s critically important together with our own experience in enabling us to do the most important thing we should be doing really well:
Creating the ‘new breakthrough theories’ for our current moment, instead of trying to make the old theories of the past fit into new circumstances. Beating an untrodden path of our own. Using our experience and learning to be ahead of the curve – and not behind it.
“No man crosses the same river twice, he is not the same man and it is not the same river” – Heraclitus c. 535 – c. 475 BC (So, not new news!!)
Whatever your business – will you complacently rely on copying what worked last year, or will you innovate to meet the future?
Will you continue to do next year what worked last year as if nothing has changed?