“But we’ve always done it this way.”
7 little words. So harmless individually, but put them together and what do you have? A recipe for organizational failure.
Most of us have uttered these same words at one time or another. It’s human nature, after all, to draw on what made us successful in the past. It makes sense. It’s rational. And that’s exactly why “forgetting what you know” is so hard to do. What could be more natural than using what’s worked before?
But just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Snake venom and asbestos are natural, too.
When the business context changes—and it changes fast these days—your methods must change along with it. Maybe print ads or another marketing tactic worked well in the past, and—let’s be honest—feel so much safer than reaching out on Instagram or Snapchat. But customers today expect engagement on new and multiple touch points, and if we want to reach them, we have to be willing to evolve.
One of the most important organizational traits today is the ability to shed what no longer works and adopt new approaches. Yet “forgetting what you know” is hard for even one person to do, let alone a team or an entire organization.
Here are a few helpful tips for making it happen:
Check the Box—Yes or No
Ask yourself or your team if the method in question works in THIS context, not the past. Resist the temptation to offer excuses and “It could still work if we only . . . “ This requires brutal honesty and objectivity. In many cases, it’s easier to achieve with a perspective from someone outside your organization.
“One of these Things is Not Like the Other”
If you’re old enough, you probably remember the Sesame Street song, “One of these Things is Not Like the Other.” It was all about context and helping children identify differences. Compare the context of the past and present business situations—the one where this method was successful and your current one. How are they different?
Identifying, defining, and documenting the differences can help you and your team accept the need to change directions and adopt the agile mindset you need to “unlearn” what worked in the past.
It’s important to take adequate time for this step. Don’t rush through it. Making sure that everyone “gets it” doesn’t guarantee they’ll be on board with newer, more appropriate ideas and tactics. But it makes it much more likely.
Clear Space for the New
When you release old approaches that are no longer serving you, newer and more appropriate ones often seem to appear and take you by surprise.
“Why didn’t we think of this before?” you might find yourself asking. The answer is quite simple: There was no mental (or operational) room for new ideas. Until you “forgot what you knew,” you weren’t as open to alternatives—and growth—as you probably thought you were.
Is letting go of those past successes easy? Simple? No. Not in your personal life, and not in business. Ultimately, though, living in the past stunts organizational growth. Want to “take it to the next level”? (Pardon the cliché.) Unlearn, forget, and make room for today’s—not yesterday’s—strategy and tactics.