Dave Snowden has written an excellent post warning of the dangers of simply looking at the past and attempting to apply, without adaptation, what happened then to what is happening now. After reading Dave’s post jumped on a plane to Sydney and as I was rushing out the door grabbed Charles Handy’s Age of Unreason from my friend’s bookshelf for some in-flight reading. Published in 1989, Handy’s words are prophetic and reinforce Dave’s message as Handy argues that the nature of change has morphed in the last 30 years from incremental change, where the past was a good indicator of the future, to discontinuous change, where the future is much less certain.
Of course we do learn from history (Dave makes this clear in his post) but it’s how we apply this learning that matters. I remember in Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation (1964) how he talked about creativity being like being faced with a canyon you wish to cross. Your first step it to find a bridge. You might find a bridge that nearly fits but then some extra effort is required to completely span the gap. These ‘bridges’ are our patterns which we develop through experience or by hearing stories about other people’s adventures. While we are good at recalling past patterns we must remain mindful of the need to reshape these patterns according to the context and needs of the issue at hand.
This view of decision making in a world of discontinuous change suggests two capabilities each and everyone should actively develop:
- seek out opportunities for new and diverse experiences or seek out people or accounts of new and diverse experiences – build your pattern repertoire
- learn ways to adapt bridges. As deBono says, “creativity thinking is a skill and can be taught.” Many of his techniques are applicable here.
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: