Get Better at Backcasting
After a poor decision, wise leaders gather the team and engage in a “postmortem,” a process of dissecting what went wrong. Specifically, what decisions contributed most to creating a bad result. This is a useful exercise that allows the leader and team to learn from their mistakes and correct them going forward.
Airlines routinely do just that and their safety record over the past decade has been remarkable. Airlines involve pilots, controllers, mechanics, and executives to retrace the actions and choices leading up to every minor and major decision underlying key negative events. By dissecting the chain of events leading to accidents and in-flight recoveries, airlines are able to apply what they glean from the analysis to improve processes and protocols.
As important as it is to reexamine what went wrong, taking a hard look at what went right can be even more insightful. After positive outcomes, the best leaders engage in “backcasting,” the process of examining the decisions and choices that led to a great outcome. Pound-for-pound, backcasting is even more impactful for learning, showing teams what went right and how they might replicate those choices in future decision processes.
In one sense, backcasting is a creative way of shaping the future. The process of backcasting requires us to pinpoint exactly what decisions produced a great result. Committing to taking those steps again in the future makes teams more effective. Better yet, teams enjoy doing it because they feel recognized as each positive step that led to success is reviewed. Don’t overlook this essential process. Add it to your post-outcome debriefs. Learning from our mistakes is insightful, but improving from our successes is a learning compounder.