The sculpture is called Without Words, by Judith Shea. It was the inspiration for the title of Charles Handy‘s book “The Empty Raincoat”.
I am a big fan of Handy’s thinking. In The Empty Raincoat he tells the story of ‘The Road to Davy’s Bar’. It is a story about an Irishman explaining the directions looking backwards.
To get to Davy’s Bar you keep going down the road you are on, it is on the right at an intersection, you cannot miss it. Half a mile before the Bar you make a right turn and go up the hill!
The book is about paradox, and the road to Davy’s Bar is an example of paradox; as Handy puts it “by the time you know where you ought to go, it’ too late to go there; or, more dramatically, if you keep on going the way you are, you will miss the road to the future.”
Certainly this is great advice when thinking about how we enhance our resilience. One of the more valuable areas we can exploit to improve resilience is to critically review and learn from our experience and near misses.
According to the old adage, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
This is also the message of an article by Peter Power, “Lessons Learned or Lessons Lost?“, published by ContinuityCentral.com. Power notes he is pushing the boundary of orthodox BC thinking – but it is about time somebody within the establishment did!
Power’s article poses the question why do so many post-disaster reviews identify the same lessons learned? But they are not implemented – therefore they are lost instead of learned.
He describes some interesting examples, perhaps the modern, interconnected world removes some of our earlier capability to learn from the past. Today when things go wrong the impacts are made worse by “secrecy, scapegoats and silos”. Power is looking at the issue mostly from the perspective of government response and that perhaps they need to include some different (Private sector) thinking at times. From my own experience the private sector is not always good at learning the lessons they identify either.
It is perhaps a feature of organisations generally, or perhaps just their management, that they would “rather forget and be happy, than remember and be sad” – as Power quotes from poet Christina Rosetti. Just keep going on the road you are on, less trouble than trying to find Davy’s Bar.
How many times have you seen project reports in an organisation that list a number of ‘lessons learned’ – but it is really no more than a list, nothing has been learned yet. And often nothing is learned. The ability to learn effectively from experience is essential to enhance adaptability – a key attribute of becoming more resilient.
I think a lot of this failure to learn is a failure to admit that you may have made mistakes in the past – perhaps taken a wrong turn or two. Finding you way to a resilient future requires that we confront our less than perfect past.
Paradox – this may be one of the important lessons for building resilience.
Perhaps we need to let go of the past – and the orthodoxy of our entrenched disciplines – in order to understand and enhance our personal and organisational resilience.
Is your approach to resilience on the road to Davy’s Bar – or do you have a clear roadmap?