Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The trap of retrospective appraisal

You might recall a post I wrote about Tim Minchin, an Australian self-styled rock-star comedian. In it, I drew some lessons about business life from his performance; 1. be distinctive, 2. risk a reaction, 3. it's about you not the business, 4. be illuminating and 5. be fallible.

Recently I purchased a DVD of Tim's 2007 live performance. His hair was shorter, clothes less stagy, and it was Tim on his own, no band, no orchestra. 

I must admit it was strange to watch a less refined, less honed performance. And it was interesting seeing him perform before he knew the success he would become. was kind of disappointing because I had experienced a 'better' Tim.

This got me thinking about retrospective appraisal.  Reviewing something at a point in time, quite removed from the context of that experience. It's why fashion from years ago looks awful but we wore it at the time. After listening to the Royal Commission into the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, the hearing some reviews of the Brisbane Floods, I can't help but feel it is unfair to judge the actions of people who were on the front-line, making decisions on limited information, from the distant and objective perspective of a later time.  Whilst these reviews invariably and thankfully lead to improved processes, systems and training, can we rightly blame the individuals?

What has this to do with your business context?  We make decisions everyday under different pressures. Make budget cuts because the imperative is this financial period.  Allow that discount to lock in the deal.  Sign that business case without reading it because I don't have time. But when we look back, when we retrospectively appraise that action, how will we be judged? Many times I have been questioned on a decision from a period long past and try as I might to conjure up the context of that decision, it simply does not carry the same weight as it did in that moment.  And that feels uncomfortable.

So what can we do? The genius of Tim Minchin was real in his performance of 2007. The audience loved him and this show ultimately led him to the one I enjoyed in 2011. It is unfair for me to judge Tim for the work of a different time; instead I should (and am) appreciative of a master shaping his craft, and I can be happy that he has progressed enough for me to be a bit disappointed. 

And this is the difference. When we retrospectively appraise something, we should rightly be disappointed if there has been no semblance of progress between then and now. But let us not judge unfairly those who were making their best judgement within a different context at a different time.

No comments:

Post a Comment