What we forget, we must relearn through experience. Corporate memory loss is a barrier to effectiveness, change and adaptation.

The pressure of now in organisations can be incessant. It can feel like there is no time for history. When I work with an organisation, I like to ask questions about the history of the organisation. The stories and insights are always worth the conversations. In all organisations, history shapes many drivers of current performance – community, context, purpose, values, customer value propositions, strategy, structure & culture. Sometimes this shaping is an explicit choice to be one way or a choice to not be another way. Often the influence has been forgotten but the legacies remain in the structure of performance in the organisation.

When organisations forget their history, they lose the context to be able to review current performance and these drivers against the past. Past success on its own is a terrible guide to future performance. Past strategies without context or understanding are even more dangerous. Usually strategies are born of successes and failures in specific contexts. When we forget the failures and the context, the strategies become harder to interpret, implement and adapt. Effective organisations understand their failures, successes and the context for each. They understand what they have learned ongoing.

Failures forgotten, or worse hidden, will be repeated by future generations. Many organisations enter a cycle of repeating the same series of decisions in a circular effort to improve performance. Centralisation fails and decentralisation follows. Decentralisation fails and centralisation follows. The cycle continues without progress until someone with the history and the understanding can challenge the binary choice and learn a new way to manage.

The same process of forgetting dooms many change programs. Launched for a specific reason at a specific time, that context is soon lost. The project develops its own logic and soon the organisation moves on to another change leaving the change orphaned. If the project succeeds many will question why. Later the organisation will return to this change to try again.

Help your organisation to understand the full context of its history and experience, both the successes and the failures. The lessons of this experience will be the foundation of future adaptation.

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