I dislike driving backward. I don’t know whether I should be using my side mirrors or if I should be putting my hand on the back of the seat beside me and turning around. Driving backward takes practice. Once you’ve practiced it becomes a lot easier. You also need to really understand the warning that’s written on the side view mirrors “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”.
In IT whenever we have a serious incident we conduct a “post-mortem” or a “production incident review” or <insert name>. We take a look at what happened (we look in the rearview mirror), what we can do to either prevent it from happening or minimizing the impact, and then we move forward.
And therein lies the key: moving forward. We’re not driving backwards.
Looking in the rear view mirror to see where you’ve been is all fine and dandy, but when you start driving backwards, what’s the point? In order to move forward as an organization you need to look in the rear view mirror and see where you’ve gone in order to understand where you are going.
Remembering where we have been and why we went there is important in understanding why we are on the road we are on. Sometimes, when looking at where we have come from, we understand why we are going in a certain direction but we understand that it is the wrong direction and we can change direction. We can go somewhere different. If we are driving backwards, however, we are continually looking into the past trying to catch something that has already happened.
This happens in technology a lot. A while back I talked about the Technology Adoption Curve and how those who start adopting a technology long after everyone else has adopted it are called laggards. Laggards are constantly looking in the rear view mirror, seeing where everyone else has been and drives towards the past. They don’t look to the future, they look to the past. The world has swung from centralized to decentralized on a pendulum and every swing has been for a different reason, but if we are constantly chasing the swinging pendulum, not for a reason, but because it is swinging, then we are just repeating the mistakes of the past.
It’s interesting to note that George Santayana and Albert Einstein grew up in the same era and they have a similar perspective on how people should remember the past, but not necessarily relive it.