What Used To Work: A Lesson to Overcome


Old road sign

What used to work is often a problem. The old way is an easy habit. It may be socially accepted and even expected. It is comfortable and comfort makes us feel safe (even when we aren’t). Old habits don’t require as much thought. Others may not be as likely to resist or fight you, even if they do ignore you.

If the past was a big success, it is even more persuasive. Others now expect this type of success from you again. This makes doing something different feel even more dangerous.

When we are faced with uncertainty, it is an instinctive reaction to go back to what worked the last time. Our emotional comfort lies in past successes. Sometimes that is a good decision. Many times, the old ways of doing things no longer work, or no longer work well.

We all fool ourselves about many things, including our past. The possibility of failing when doing something new hampers us, especially if we think we’ve had it all figured out before.

Ever notice someone that dresses in styles that were popular ten or twenty years ago? I bet that was a time of success (or perceived success) in their life. It still “feels right” to them, avoiding the risk of a new fashion. Same goes for old hair styles. Yet, what used to work for them then, clearly doesn’t work now.

When coaching youth basketball for several years, I once heard a coach talk about one advantage of trailing on the scoreboard at half-time. He said that when the other team had a decent lead, it was unlikely they would make many changes. So, he knew exactly what adjustments he could make to get his team back in the game. The opponent was going to stick with what worked in the first half, even if it eventually lost them the game.

In business, many companies will fight new technology, new customer service ideas, and new business models while their company uses the “way we’ve always done it” to drive the business into the ground. And as they fail, they blame everyone and everything but themselves. They see the failure as something they cannot control, such as the economy, the unfaithful clients or the competition. After all, they “know” what works, even if it has not worked well in years.

Not all changes will lead to success. But despite our human nature being resistant to change, the world is ever changing. Adapting is a key to success, including overcoming our distorted view of the past.


Glenn S. PhillipsGlenn S. Phillips is the author of Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself. His website, www.nerdtoenglish.com, will lead you to more information about effective communication training, risk assessments and genuinely helpful tips. You can email Glenn directly at glennsphillips@nerdtoenglish.com.

Glenn is also the president of Forte’ Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with business leaders to understand and address the often hidden technology and business risks lurking within their organizations.

© Copyright 2012. Glenn S. Phillips, Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.