Are You Using The Rear View Mirror To See What Is Ahead?

Rear View Mirror

What vantage point do you use to move forward?

The rear view mirror, your headlights or a travel advisor who tells you what’s ahead?

The Three Views

Seth Kahan recently spoke at Texas Society of Association Executives New Ideas 2011 Conference at the Omni Houston Galleria in Houston, Tx. Kahan is the CEO of Visionary Leadership and author of Getting Change Right.

Kahan identified three perspectives organization leaders use when making decisions about the future.

1. Rear View

Leaders that depend upon the rear view use data and experience for their decision making. Why? Because that’s what they know. It’s fact. It’s data. It’s what has happened in the past.

Kahan says it’s a mistake to confuse data with what is ahead. The past only shows where you’ve been, not where you are going.

He said it was like trying to drive your car while looking in the rear view mirror. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to drive focused on what is behind you or you would have an accident. Yet many leaders drive their organization’s future based on the data from the past.

2. The Headlights – What’s Immediately Ahead

Leaders that rely on what is immediately ahead for their organization identify their customer’s needs and their business challenges for their decision making.

Kahan says this is like focusing on where your headlights shine. Your low beam headlights illuminate about 100-160 feet ahead of you.

Most good drivers can see about 12-15 seconds ahead of them. When stuck in traffic, drivers can see about one block ahead of them. At high speeds it may be about a quarter of a mile.

But is that enough? Does that view provide enough information to lead an organization into the future or just 12-15 seconds or a quarter of a mile ahead?

3. The Travel Advisor – Looking Into The Future

These leaders look to futurists, trendsetters and thought leaders when they are making decisions.

It’s similar to consulting a travel advisor or map to see where you are going when you take a trip. Travel advisors and futurists have an eye on what’s ahead.

Certainty Or Advantage?

Kahan says that during times of tumult and disruption, leaders tend to depend upon the past to make their decisions. They want to be certain about what they are doing. The more certainty an organization wants, the more they go backwards to the rear view says Kahan.

Wise leaders want the data and want to go forward. The farther out you go in the future, the higher the advantage over your competitors.

Kahan says the best way to make organization decisions is to use both the headlights, what’s immediately ahead, and futurists or thought leaders to get an idea of the future.

Which is more important to the success of your organization, certainty or advantage? What keeps leaders from transitioning away from data-driven to future-driven decision making?

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