The Past and the Future, Part 1

There is a worn out phrase in every investment document you’ve ever read and never read. It is, “Past results do not guarantee future results”. When we read that, it’s because the brochure is promising returns that are far better than we imagined possible. And probably due to some legal case in America – the litigation capitol of the world – this sentence now appears because someone made an investment and failed to get that result. In fact, the principal may well have been lost altogether.

That same sentence, however, can be interpreted in exactly the opposite way. If the past years personally, professionally or organizationally have not gone well, then many people have a tendency to believe that their future will be like that, too. In other words, they think that their past results will guarantee their future.

It’s at this point that the armchair psychologists come out with their own paraphrase of something that Einstein is reported to have said, which is that it is a form of insanity to do the same thing day after day and expect a different outcome. And because it was Einstein who said it, we believe it without even thinking about whether it’s true or not. That fact is that it isn’t. At best, it’s a half-truth. It might be somewhat correct some of the time.


Einstein was a genius; but he wasn’t perfect.

If you’ve been holding onto that statement as an axiom of truth, then it’s time to let go. You will only ever be misled by it.

When would it be true? Almost never. Does that surprise you?

The reason that it’s false most of the time is that that which you do day after day is not done in a vacuum. There are other things that are going on around you even as you do whatever it is that you do. In other words, the context is constantly changing, and that means that even if what you do is constant, which in itself is impossible to sustain for very long, the outcome will be different because the collective activities are.

Take dieting, for instance. Overeating will cause you to gain weight; but overeating as a teenager is different from doing so in middle age. It can be the same activity, even the same amount of the same food; but the outcome will be different, a fact to which any 40-something will attest. Why is that? It’s because as you get older, your metabolism slows down. Your job may require you to sit more. Illness may prevent you from exercising, and boredom with or without the disappointments that life dishes out can also promote a couch potato lifestyle.

In organizations, this is also a problem; not overeating necessarily, but doing the same thing day after day. The assumption is that by doing what they’ve always done, they’ll continue to experience the success of the past. And the truth is that because the world around them has changed, their expectations are based on sand.



Strategizing is a good example of this. For some, it’s an alien concept. Ask them what their goals are and you discover that they don’t have any apart from ticking over or keeping a steady hand on the tiller. It’s all about now: what jobs have to be done this week, this month, and maybe in six months, depending upon their current clients’ needs. It’s reactive, rather than proactive. To use a cliché, it’s waiting to see what happens instead of trying to make it happen.



Marketing is another good example. If you’ve experienced years and years of success, then it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security. You may feel that because you’ve never had to market, then it’s not something that you need to be too concerned about now.

The thing is, that obtaining new business today is different than what it was even 25 years ago. Among other things, the Internet has changed all of that. Surprisingly, there are companies today who don’t think that it’s necessary to have a website, or whose site looks like a primitive brochure, or who only want prospect contact details, but are unwilling to provide a means to be contacted themselves except through a generic online form. What they have failed to understand is that the entire marketing game has changed, and they are no longer in charge of it the way they once were.

When you need more business, you can’t rely on your virtual Rolodex to create customers. You have to have already been in regular contact with them and your prospects so that when they need what you provide, they think of you; or when you call, they even know who you are.

How often have you received an email from a company that you’ve never heard of? There may be the perfunctory message at the top that says you’re getting it because you signed up; but if you haven’t heard from them for a little while, then you’ll probably unsubscribe immediately. Why waste time reading a message that amounts to a cold call?


If it ain’t broke

If you are among those who assume that “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, then here’s something to think about. It’s always broke, whether you realize it or not.

Whatever worked in the past has passed. You’re in a new context now. You’re relying on old business practices to make you successful in a new business environment. You’re still using a horse and cart while everyone else is driving a car, and some are thinking about space travel. You may get to where you want to go eventually, but not before your competition has been and gone.

Set aside a day – half a day – to examine your business. Ask yourself where you’ve been assuming that your future will be like your past. If it’s anything other than what you want, then fix it.



If you consider you could benefit from a rapid business review to challenge how you see your business and future – contact me here

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