Last week we were talking about metaphors used in organisations and how they affect they way people think, and act. One popped up which got me thinking. I’d heard it before, in fact I’d heard many times—this Fast Company article has a great dig at consultant’s over-use of the phrase. Attributed to ice hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, who apparently said:
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
There is an underlying assumption contained in this quote: we can predict an outcome (where the puck is going to be) based on the detection of weak signals (where the puck is and what is happening at the time). I’ve only seen one ice hockey game (in Boston) so I can’t really comment about ice hockey specifically but I watch and coach a lot of basketball so let’s move the analogy to the basketball court.
When getting yourself free in basketball, say on a fast break, the good player creates a range of possibilities rather than running to a single point where they think the basketball is going to be. They help create a pattern which takes account of the weak signal but creating possibilities which are resilient to a range of outcomes.
I think if organisations take the Gretzky’s quote to heart and think it means they need to be able to predict outcomes, they are setting themselves up for failure. It should also be noted that a player with the skills of Gretzky can create a far greater set of possibilities and a stronger resilience when things don’t go to plan.
I’d like to thank Dave Snowden for helping me see this idea of resilience as a desired outcome of detecting weak signals. Dave, would you like to expand on this idea?
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: