What’s past is prologue

What’s past is prologue

“[W]hat’s past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.”

William Shakespeare, The Tempest. Act 2, Scene 1.

My favorite movie President of all time is Jeff Bridges in Rod Lurie’s The Contender. (I’m in good company: a far-more-qualified authority than me feels the same way: Barack Obama. Fortunately, I was on record as early as 2002 praising Bridges’ POTUS – I’m no bandwagon fan!)

In the more than two decades since seeing the film the first time, it turns out my favorite scene isn’t even in the movie: it’s one of the deleted scenes, included on the DVD:

(Deleted scene from The Contender. A full transcript of the scene is here; I’ve been obsessed with this scene for decades.)

You see variations on this behavior in lots of places: “we do things this way because this is how we’ve always done them.” Sure, I’ve seen this in government – but it’s no less evident in the private sector. For better or worse, teams come to the same conclusion that Shakespeare did all those years ago: past is prologue: that’s how we did things before, it’s how we’ll do things now.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone reading this blog that I agree with Bridges on this one: if your actions today are entirely defined by what others did before, the best you could hope to achieve is exactly the same outcome as before. (The worst part of President Evans’ anecdote: noone had any idea why they were doing things the way they were: it was just how things were done.)

In a world where we simply let the past be our prologue, the outcomes almost never matter – and any successes will be accidental at best. If you instead focus on the outcomes – what you’re trying to achieve – then the tactics (how you’ll get there) will present themselves.

Don’t be an ape.

PS: the featured image for this post is by none other than the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, taken on the set of The Contender with Gary Oldman. If you weren’t aware that he is an accomplished photographer – and publishes photos from nearly every movie set he’s been on – you should check out his prints.

Photo by Jeff Bridges, at jeffbridges.com

One response to “What’s past is prologue”

  1. […] If that leader on my team edited his team’s OKRs on the fly, the value of those OKRs to future team members years from now would be nearly non-existent. Sure, we would have the impact from that revised OKR, and the compounding effects over future quarters that built on that outcome. But we’d lose the institutional knowledge that the team had started out trying to achieve X, and eventually learned that their attempt at achieving X had failed. The next time some future team member proposes to try to achieve X, would anyone remember that they’d tried that before? Or will they all be new apes? […]

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