Will “What Got Us Here” Take Us “There?”

October 7, 2014 — Portsmouth, NH,

I have been doing a lot of thinking, studying, and scribbling on a challenging concept for successful organizations and individuals: the effort that got us here, to our present level of achievement and accomplishment, will not be what takes us there, to the next chapter of thriving. It seems to me that the challenge is similar for both enterprises and individuals. It’s natural, as homo sapiens, we use our “sapience” to look at the stuff that got us here, and to conclude we need to do more of it to take us there. But it won’t. Why won’t it?


The unexpected variable that challenges sustained achievement is the rapidly changing external environment that we operate in and inhabit. If the external environment remained static, or even changed slowly (as with biological evolution), then perhaps what got us here would take us there. All you would need is a little more emphasis, polish, or effort. “Whoa, those 10,000 hours we put into trying to understand the old environment continue to be applicable, right?” Umm…Not right. The driving forces behind our external environment have changed and are rapidly changing. Where we used to operate in a world of scarcity and seek new ways to apply the coefficient of labor, today we live with the Paradox of Choice (Schwartz, 2004). We seek ways to reduce the physical and mental clutter in our world to allow us to focus on learning to live in multiple worlds– in multiple domains.

If an enterprise or an individual is unsuccessful or failing then curiously, it is easier to throw out the old (it didn’t work anyway). However, if you are already effective and successful, it is more problematic. As humans, we have an almost instinctive trait I see our clients, friends—hell, even ourselves, unthinkingly adopt. We look at the recent past and project it linearly into the future. So naturally, we look at professional and personal strategies and resource allocation that worked well in the past and project them linearly into the future.

What’s awkward is that since the external environment is changing so rapidly, the future drivers of achievement and subjective well being do not look anything like the past. Our old tried and true behaviors are not authentically aligned with the new driving forces in the new environment. What do we need? New strategies and resource allocation to learn and grow in the new environment. Ones that may be radically different from what has worked in the past. The question is whether we dare to intentionally discard our comfortable behaviors, habits, strategies – even relationships – the ones that got us here.