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What do you already know?
Yep, I'm back. Will there be more in the new year? Who knows? Although what I already know has actually been much on my mind of late.1 And from a few recent chats, it seems l’m not alone:
A friend just resisted a stonking promotion because they already know they want to leave and start something new
A client realised they already know it’s a certain attitude that’ll help them manage a nerve-crushing event, not the content or politics2
I discovered that I already know what do with a new product, having inadvertently done the thinking for something else3
Cue much cock-a-hoop bragging about how marvellous we are. So astute! So abundant in self-knowledge! So... Etc.
BUT: a dastardly fly in the ointment
Over the years I’ve reinvented the proverbial wheel alarmingly, laboriously often. I’ve realised a touch too late that the thing-I’ve-spent-hours-thinking-through is actually the same thing-I-spent-hours-thinking-through a few months ago. I’ve forgotten that something over there could, with a few tweaks, be quickly applied over here. I’ve even written the same blogpost. My least favourite task. TWICE.4 (So. Many. Eye-rolls.)
And based on those recent conversations, it seems I’m not alone. Because tucked in amongst our self-congratulation was a slightly sheepish realisation. It turned out there was a quite a lot stuff we’d forgotten we already knew. Or simply dismissed, or ignored.
Three reasons we keep reinventing the wheel
Why do we start afresh when we don’t really need to? Well, probably lots of reasons. But here are three I regularly encounter – for myself as well as my clients:
Successful people tend to shove success round the next corner5
So when stuff goes well you simply say: NEXT! And don’t pay attention to what actually worked, what helped it to work, and what could potentially be extracted, tweaked and applied elsewhere. (Unlike when stuff goes wrong. And sure, you can learn from mistakes, but it’s a bit half-arsed to forget the triumphs.)
Everyone is reeeeally busy, with much dashing from one thing to the next to the next6
So you don’t give yourself the fast feedback that would help you pin down your lightening flash realisations.7 And that makes it So Much Harder to remember what you’ve learned and what you could simply adapt and apply.
Its rewards might be rich, but self-reflection is hard work and feels like a time suck
So most people a) don’t do enough of it, b) don’t get curious enough, and c) don’t get curious about enough stuff.8 Like accidents. That inadvertent innovation, or unexpected learning. Lots of useful, reusable stuff can pass you by simply because you never intended it to happen. It was barely noticeable at the time and, unless you make the effort, you’ll remain in not-so-blissful ignorance afterwards.
Also… a fourth
There is something rather exciting about the new. At least for me. I love the WHOOSH! of ideas. The wondering-imagining-figuring-out. The sheer captivation of a fresh challenge. But still, everything is a continuance of something. Probably.
How not to dismiss what you already know
Get curious about it
What have you discovered this year – about yourself, your work, the world, how you engage with it, something else altogether?
Capitalise on it
What could you apply where, whether as a one-off or as a system or format? (Love a spot of Format Thinking.9) And don’t forget to sweat the small stuff: what are the bits of things you can borrow, adjust, adapt and apply?
Know what you already know? Marvellous, well done you. But it’s only useful if you actually... use it. So test it out: where will you apply it, what do you notice, which tweaks do you need, when?
Yep, it takes some thought and effort. And who has time for that? Except that using what you already know leaves you more time and energy to figure out the stuff that really is enticingly, excitingly new.10
Got your own examples? Hit reply and tell me! I’d love to hear ‘em, if you’re willing to share. (I’m nosey. I’m bored of my own. Etc.)
See what I did there? Years at the telly coalface went into that segue. Wondering what that’s all about? Tl;dr: spent ages working in telly, decided the whole ‘leadership’ malarkey could be vastly improved, set off to make that happen. Adventures ensued.
And it worked! (Which is lucky, for all the reasons.) The other thing that was brilliant about this particular approach was that it was entirely within their power. The content partly relied on other people. The politics absolutely relied on other people. But their attitude was theirs alone. Which didn’t make it easy; arguably it was even harder. But it did make it simpler: they only had to rely on themselves. Plus: they gathered more evidence of what works for them, and where, and how, and why. So now they have more tried and tested stuff that they already know and can use again.
Also me banging on about what learning design can learn from telly: make a format bible! It saves SO MUCH TIME. And why I'll never make sourdough. Because all the reasons.
Yeah, it was this one. I ran an Accidental Innovation workshop for a client about six months into the pandemic, which led to another, and another, and another... So I decided to blog about it, pulled together the ideas, lost track amidst endless lockdowns. Skip forward 18 months. Exciting conversations about what we already know! Idea for blog! Write blog! Find… original blog. Weep for the unrelenting irony. Basically, my cup truly overfloweth. Largely with duplicated blogposts.
Yep, definitely begs the question: how do you define success? The answer is rarely as straightforward as you might think.
And we love it. It’s really hard to break the busy = valuable connection, even if we don’t think the equation stands up. Why do you value being busy? Is probably an impertinent question worth asking.
One thing you did absolutely brilliantly, one thing you’ll so differently next time, one thing you’re curious to try out next time. Think: keep, ditch, switch.
Even when they mean to. Even when they bang on about how important it is to everyone else. Why are you all looking at me?
That really ought to link to a blog post, but I haven’t written it yet. So you’ll have to imagine it instead.
I love a footnote. So leaning heavily into what I already know about myself, my New Thing will be The Digressionist. Watch this footnoted space. Or don’t, because I’ll probably get diverted by something else in the meantime.