Hindsight: What organisations can learn from the past to better leverage the future

SAMIR MARDOLKER elaborates on hindsight and what businesses can learn from it to improve the future

Knowing how you got to where you are (hindsight) is critical to leveraging the opportunities that the future presents. Leveraging opportunities in the future is not just about predicting what the future will be. It is as much about understanding teams and how they make decisions. Such understanding, achieved in hindsight, can complement the foresight that market intelligence provides and help us better leverage the opportunities that the future presents.

Why is hindsight left behind?

Obsessing about the future seems to be in vogue. Firstly, the future is happening NOW (!). I mean changes are happening fast. Secondly, change is also permeating faster across sectors and geographies. The consequences of not anticipating change are omnipresent and salient. But at the same time, it is getting increasingly difficult to predict change or the future because of the way markets and products categories are intertwined; also with tech-enabled step changes disrupting business models. Therefore, the obsession for foresight is understandable and, in the process, hindsight remains ignored.
What should you learn via hindsight? Organisations should remain open to investigating 3 dimensions critical to being better prepared to leverage the future. They relate to a) How ready they are to sense change b) What is their overarching reaction to change c) What really drives the choices they make? Such an understanding can uncover issues in organisational readiness to leverage the future. Corrective action can make them better prepared to leverage the opportunities the future provides. Being better prepared can be an excellent complement to having the market intelligence to predict future scenarios (which is increasingly becoming a commodity you can buy in-market).

How can organisational readiness be investigated?
I provide one example for each dimension critical to organisational readiness to be being better prepared to leverage the future. These short descriptions should suffice to explain how we can learn from hindsight. I had to avoid the detail to protect client confidentiality, but I hope the key take outs are still obvious.
Sensing change: Your front-line employees are your radar! They may well be the first to sense change. Their alertness to change comes from a sense of ownership and responsibility. Such an attitude is linked to how empowered they are made to feel and how easy you make it for them to ‘intelligently disobey’. Studying instances of intelligence disobedience can help discover upcoming change. Case: One of our clients running an international hotel property in Singapore had weekly team meetings to sense the degree of ‘intelligent disobedience’ i.e. instances where there was intentional deviation from SOPs (Standard Operating Protocols). It was deemed a good indicator of how sensitive the front-line staff is to market changes. Not having a formal data strategy to collect and understand the rationale behind such deviations, the team meetings served as a convenient option. Studying these deviations helped being sensitive to noticing early signs of upcoming change in the manner hotel guests expected to be serviced.

Reacting to change: In a world where first mover advantage is increasingly difficult to counter, how proactive is your organisation to act? Case: Despite having the resources to deliver cutting edge products in-market, our client struggled with defending against a nimble upcoming start-up. A deep facilitation exercise amongst key stakeholders uncovered the real issue. Employees had a ‘reactive’ mindset and failed to recognise the competitive advantage they had due to their scale and were constantly being blindsided by tactical activities spearheaded by the competitor. Recognising this attitude helped course correct and take charge of the future.
Choice drivers: It is important to study tough choices that the organisation has made in the past. By touch choices I mean where one option is better than the other on some aspects and vice-versa, but neither is good enough. Often, what comes across as a rational decision deliberating on pros-con is an irrational one based on team biases and mindsets. Case: Studying NPD initiatives from the past that were not progressed in the innovation pipeline despite having the demand in-market identified the underlying cause as the resistance to change among the operations team – financial investment and structure/mindset change required. While the change did not seem justified for each initiative at that point in time, the hindsight analysis of rejections over 2-3 years revealed that the potential opportunity loss would have been more than justified to make the change to operations.
End note: The future will always excite. But what you make of it is as much about learning from the past as it is about accurately predicting it. Predicting the future is a commodity you can buy from consultants.
Learning from the past requires intent, vulnerability, transparency and a collaborative effort that few teams possess. What have you done to learn in hindsight.

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