When we as humans encounter something new, it’s normal to compare this new experience to any experience we had in the past. We are creatures of contrast – we can only understand things as compared to other things that we already know about – or at least that is our default state.
We naturally look at things with this lens – we use our experiences of the past to make decisions about the future. That donut tasted good last week, so if I buy one now, it will also taste good. In every ad for an investment, we must be reminded repeatedly that past performance does not necessarily predict future performance.
However, that is how we are wired – it’s tough to not look at the present with the lens of the past. While this may help you feel that your experience is helping you to make a decision, the reality is that it is not.
What happened before is very rarely the same as now. Many things are different – it’s a different time, you are a different person, you may be in a different place. No two moments are ever so alike that the results of decisions in those moments will be the same.
For example, in the early 2000s, I ran a startup very similar to Quora, which failed miserably – the time was just not right for the service. Had I started it slightly before Quora, it may be where Quora is today. If I were to restart the same service today, it might fail again, or it may be even more successful than Quora. Timing is everything, and I used my judgment of the market to start it when I did.
I used my lens of the past to decide the present when I should have used my lens of the future.
As I mentioned, we are generally wired to automatically make decisions on the present, based on our experience, or the experience of others. This may have worked well in our life on the savannah, but in our current controlled and highly technological environment, it is a barrier to ideating new things. Instead of viewing the present through the lens of the past, create a lens of the future.
This lens of the future uses our in-built predictive ability (I’m sure every human has some of it – some more than others) to look at a future extension of the decision that you are about to make in the present. Instead of saying “this is what I did before and X happened,” break that pattern by looking that the future ramifications of that decision, instead of the past results of that previous decision.
Map out the possibilities in your head instead of mapping it to the past. Remember, the past was a different place, and you were a different person. Maybe the person you are today would make a completely different decision from the person you were in the past.
With a lens of the future, you won’t let your past drive your fate, but you will make the decision that leads to the future you wish to create.