In my 2013 book, "Entering the Shift Age" I wrote about the Collapse of Legacy thinking. Since then I have been speaking about this to audiences, classes and at corporate and city retreats. The response have been quite strong, with companies getting back to me months after a retreat saying that they are constantly challenging each other : "Are we holding on to legacy thinking?" "Is this strategy based upon legacy thinking?"
Many people have come up to me after speeches to say "the concept of legacy thinking makes me realize how much I need to rethink what we/I do going forward". It is gratifying to have come up with a concept that makes people rethink what they do, how they think and how they run their companies. So I thought it might be of value to provide a quick look at this concept for those who have yet to read the book.
Simply put, legacy thinking is looking at the present or into the future through the filter of thoughts from the past. This filter prevents one from seeing the present clearly let alone any chance of gazing ahead.
If you are reading this and you are over 40 you have spent the majority of your life in the 20th century. So you grew up and then entered the workplace with 20th century reality and thinking. Perhaps your business mentor told you in 1994 that X is true and that if you always do X you will succeed. In 2014, if you still blindly believe that X is true you may well be off course today. There has been so much transformative change in the past 20 years that if you are not looking at past truths or truisms and placing them under a full examination of today's reality it is highly probable that what you see may not be what is.
Most of the developed countries including the United States, and especially Washington D.C. have powered into the 21st century thinking 20th century thought. Going back to trying something that worked in the 1980s is ludicrous as there is now a global economy, no Cold War, the Internet, cell phone ubiquity and 2 billion more people. How could what worked in 1984 be assumed to possibly work today?
Some of this is the rose-colored glasses syndrome of thinking that the past was better. Some of it is a fixed sense of identity where change might be considered defeat. Some of this is being uncomfortable with change, which seems to be a common affliction. Odd, when the only constant in the universe is change. So holding on to either a fixed position or a view from the past keeps one from seeing the present clearly.
A quote that I placed at the front of my first book "The Shift Age" frames this concept well:
"We should try to be the parents of our future rather than the offspring of our past"
-Miguel de Unamuno
Is your thinking the offspring of your past or is your thinking actually parenting the future?
In the dark time post-Lehman Brothers, I was often asked if America would remain a great nation or would it fade away and be supplanted by China. My abbreviated answer at that time was that if we didn't better educate our children and reeducate our adults, if we didn't become a healthier citizenry and we didn't completely rebuild our transportation, energy and communications infrastructure, it didn't matter what else we did. Clearly this was high level and simplistic, but I still think it fundamentally accurate.
In a recent column I wrote for my blog - the link to it is to the right - I wrote about how our infrastructure is literally collapsing around us. America created most of its infrastructure in the early part of the 20th century, during the Great Depression and in the 1950s and 1960s. We haven't really done much since then. We missed a huge opportunity with the poorly wrought stimulus of 2009 which was nothing much more than congressional pork barrel with a couple of extra zeros. We could have created a Rebuild America Corp, put people to work, repaired, rebuilt and renewed our infrastructure and living environments. We could have dramatically increased energy efficiencies in our buildings and created a lot of distributed energy production. But we didn't. We now live in a rapidly deteriorating landscape of 75-100 year old water ducts, tunnels, bridges and roadways.
Nothing is being done because Washington is locked down by political gridlock with no leadership and at the state and local levels necessary funds are being diverted into loan repayments and pensions.
If America wants to remain the great nation it has been for the last 100 years, it is now time to do so. To put down the constraining political positions that keep us from doing so and to embrace a vision of decades not just the next election cycle. Our country is literally crumbling before us and under us. I fear we might have to wait until a bunch of bridges collapse, or there is a major outbreak of disease because of contaminated water before we wake up.
We need the vision, the will and then the effort to rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century. It is up to us and we have it to do. Will we?