Sri Lanka is going through one of the most exciting phases of its post-independence era, where it’s strong future potential is visible, within reach, and achievable in the opinion of many (this is of course, provided that we ourselves do not create a whole set of new issues which destroy the momentum, and keep ourselves occupied and distracted from what really needs to be done).
These days one hears of so many indicators which are used to help demonstrate this future potential such as future GDP growth, Per Capita income, forex earnings etc and Industry specific objectives such as Tourist arrivals, IT BPO Earnings and so on. Indeed I count myself lucky to be among so many Sri Lankan’s who are still around to be part of these next decades, and I know they will all contribute in their own way, towards this journey.
So the future looks inspiring, but what about the past? It was the rearranging of a bookshelf, which unearthed some old magazines, which got me contemplating. Leafing through these I noticed some articles from the eighties, which had some interesting data points, such as the expected completion date for the Southern highway, which in actual fact was many years ago. The Internet penetration expected was to be way higher than it is by now and of course many other interesting Industry statistics, which now seem amusing, if not embarrassing.
So therein lay the question - what happened in these instances? Is no one evaluating anything based on the original expected outcome? Somehow, I wonder if the answer at most times is to come up with “new” even more exciting and ambitious objectives, and keep all the troops and attention focused “forward”? After all, we cannot change the past, can we, so why bother?
Lack of accountability
I am sure many will recognize this pattern, but the worrying part is the total lack of accountability on the part of many who set these bold goals, and the ease with which Amnesia develops when it comes to these historic statements made. The lack of any strong sense of personal accountability for statements of the past, also mean that the credibility of any current statements may also be suspect, to say the least. But why is it also that we too, (as members of the Public, or the people in the Industry, or employees of a company, or what ever the case maybe), so easily bury the history and accept the status quo of a new set of aspirations? Is it that we always look from a personal impact perspective, or find it easier to not make issues, or worry about the consequences or falling out of favour, for us individually or for the companies or entities we represent? Or could it even be a Cultural aspect of non-confrontational conformity – and yes why not blame the Culture as that is an easy one?
The irony of this phenomena is that we miss such a fantastic opportunity to improve the future even further, i.e. by learning from our past failures and successes. It is only by dissecting and analyzing past actions taken, and efforts made, or not made, to reach the failed (or successful) outcomes, that we will begin to understand what efforts can produce the right outcome, and what efforts would fail us in the final analysis. Lessons Learnt are an invaluable commodity.
Skipping this sequence, ignoring the past stated aspirations, and simply developing a new objective does not give us a better chance at success the second time around. Some would however take the easier approach of making new targets that are more easily achievable, the next time round simply to proclaim success.
Failure is a bitter pill in our country – and only few acknowledge it. There are so few conversations, forums, or instances where there is public acknowledgement of failures (by Leaders, Corporates, Associations and individuals), and how they could be prevented the next time round. Granted it is a difficult process and not something most people, myself included, would find easy going to acknowledge and navigate. The unwillingness to be openly truthful does provide a Blind spot for many, and indeed possibly for us as a Nation. Cover up and confusion, or shifting the blame elsewhere, seem the more popular strategies. Conversely, would the general public, or employees in an organization, appreciate people who failed more, if they were to be more open? Or would there be an inadequate sense of maturity among these groups, which is why Leaders cannot have the luxury of making such acknowledgements? Finally, is there an overriding fear of punishment or removal from office etc, which hangs as a sword over all who acknowledge failure? This phenomena also feeds a lot into a culture of innovation, which often comes through the learning generated through multiple failures; and a culture where failure is not readily accepted, would never become one where innovation flourishes.
Creating a “safe environment” through group dynamics and fun exercise etc, is a good way to start a process which helps people or entities acknowledge and discuss failure in a less judgmental or hostile environment, with a more positive outcome in mind. Extending that towards Corporates or broader national issues is something Leaders could pay more attention to.
Fostering this notion within the Schooling environment is also a key factor. If not, we would simply keep coming up with new brilliant plans, and invest heavily in them, without carrying the lessons of the past failures into the future - indeed a good recipe for more future failures. Being always “Forward looking” does have its limitations.
(The writer is the Microsoft Country Manager for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh)