Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Contextualize Me

The resident small person is pretty sure today that I'm crazy. We had a good gentle soaking rain going and since he was bored, I had him entertain me with the tale of Hansel and Gretel. After writing about trails of breadcrumbs recently, I panicked momentarily, thinking perhaps he didn't know the story and therefore might not understand the significance of things like breadcrumbs in current parlance.

It turns out, I didn't have any reason to worry - he was able to tell the story quite well with full detail and a lot of good storytelling technique. Apparently it's in one of his books; I guess we've been better than I'd feared at ensuring his cultural literacy. Whew!

It's in the interests of establishing a fluency in cultural literacy that I let the small person watch and encourage him to listen to old stuff that shaped my own generation and those that came before me. At least I hope it's more that than bad parenting or an occasional guilty indulgence in what we jokingly refer to around our house as "Bad 70's music" - and no fair saying that's redundant!

I believe in the adage that those who are ignorant about history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I also believe that understanding context is key to understanding anything. You know - the inside jokes, kind of had to have been there kind of thing?

I'm sure you run into the same sort of thing at work - where there is historical context that is as critical to avoiding past mistakes as it is to understanding current language, decisions, culture, and so forth. That doesn't mean living in the past or adhering to old practices simply because "we've always done it this way." History needn't lock us into the same old problems. Sometimes what didn't work before will work now because the situation has changed. Understanding the context helps provide the clues as to what will work best in the current situation based on what has gone before.

What we need in organizations are storytellers who can capture the history and keep it fresh for all who need it. If that person isn't you, I hope you know who is!

I'm interested in your thoughts on the relationship between progress and historical context. Send them to me at and let's find the the creative edge between past and future together.

What am I doing to capture and learn from where we've/I've been?