And Pharoah said, ‘You are lazy! You will be given no straw, but you must produce the same tally of bricks each day.’ – Exodus 5
Do you know how to find out what people will do in a given situation?
For example, if you’re marketing a new brand of healthy cereal, what questions would you ask to find out whether people will buy it?
Many people will assume the right thing to do is ask people what they will do.
“Would buy this type of cereal?”, might be one.
A simple direct question – would you do this.
Many people, when asked such a question, will probably say that they would buy that type of healthy cereal.
Should you now go and build your factories – start producing tons of the stuff?
Before you do that the question you should ask is “What types of cereal do you buy now?”
The point is that studying the past will tell often you more about what will happen in the future than any amount of prediction or forecasting.
Why is that?
Well, the future has an infinite set of alternatives – every possible thing that could happen from the next instant.
The past is defined – a single timeline of things that have happened.
The past is certain and the future uncertain.
But what is likely is that things that have happened in the past will happen again in the future.
If your preference has been for chocolate ice cream for most of your adult life you are unlikely to change to a pomegranate fusion.
This is the time of year for resolutions – for ideas and plans for how you will do things differently.
Imagine you were to tell a friend about how you have spent the last few days, the last few weeks, the last few months, the last year – what would you say?
If you could talk through what’s taken your time, what you’ve enjoyed doing, how things have gone – then you will have an insight into what you’ve done.
And in what you’ve done lies the information you need to understand what you’re going to do.
Let’s take writing as an example – something like keeping a blog like this one you’re reading.
If I look back at what I’ve done, the one constant that’s always been there is writing.
I have sheets of yellow paper with pencilled writing from 1998 in a file, letters, diary entries – not everything but enough to know that writing has been something I’ve done for a few decades.
I use writing as a way to examine what I think, as a way to understand other people’s ideas, as a way to work through unsettling situations.
In the first decade of this century I held a view that if something wasn’t in writing it practically didn’t exist.
In the second decade I revised that view to if something isn’t on the Internet it doesn’t exist.
Now, if someone starts a website or a blog or whatever else because they think it would be a useful thing to do – something utilitarian – perhaps something as part of a content marketing strategy – the test of whether they will keep at it is whether they have written much in the past.
Because if they haven’t this task will wear them down, doing something they don’t really like doing day after day.
And you can’t outsource it easily – because that person writing has the same problem.
Do they do it because they have to – in which case that angst will show – or do they do it because they like writing?
The thing you have to look for when trying to see whether something that you want to change is likely to do so is the voice of the process.
If you want to increase the number of customers you have, how much time did you spend last year having conversations with prospects, partners and introducers?
If you want to lose weight how many days a week did you exercise last year?
If you want to spend less how much time did you spend last year filling in your cashbook and updating your budget?
The fact is that we are all anchored in the past, rooted there – just like a giant tree.
If we want to change ourselves or our situation in a way that is very different from where we are now we need to pull up that anchor, uproot that tree – and that’s very hard work.
Not impossible – but very hard.
You should have started taking baby steps to change ten years ago.
But if you haven’t – today is good too.