First time I took a driving test the examiner failed me because I did not use my rear view mirror when making a right turn manoeuvre. Naturally, I thought he was harsh on me. Since then, I have learnt to respect this simple car accessory as a vital part of safe driving.
However, there are people out there who are determined to undermine the humble rear view mirror. They associate it with backward looking and thinking, not worthy of modern business philosophy. They tell us we need clever and sophisticated dashboards full of smart KPIs that can help us predict future behaviour.
I was recently on an excellent course to learn, amongst other things, how to become a more effective board member by enhancing my reading of the company financial vital signs. I highly recommend the course, you can check it out on the UK Institute of Directors website http://www.iod.com
Just as I was warming up to the course, the lecturer urged us not to spend too much time reading the company’s past financial results and instead to look forward. Again, the old analogy of driving a car by looking through the rear view mirror was sited as an example.
I accept the lecturer was making the point that finance is not just simply about telling you what had happened to your business in the last week, month, quarter etc., but to help you think strategically and challenge the executive regarding the likely future outcome of the business from a financial perspective.
Come on people; give the humble rear view mirror a break! If rear view mirrors were such bad instruments, how come we still have them in every car on the road? Even Formula One cars have rear view mirrors; it is mandatory.
I am somewhat obsessive with my 3 car mirrors. Before setting off I fiddle with them until I am satisfied I have an uninterrupted panoramic view of what’s behind me from the left wing mirror, to the centre mirror inside and on to the right wing 3rd mirror. During the journey, I constantly glance back through the rear view mirrors, not so much to bemoan what I missed but, to look for warning signs of what might soon happen. There may be fast approaching cars to watch out for, police cars or other emergency vehicles I need to take heed of, and so on.
Now be honest, of all the sophisticated dials and counters on your dashboard, how many do you really check as regularly as your rear view mirror? Thank you very much! Apart from the petrol heads amongst us, no one really knows what these instruments are for.
In short, I am a strategist who respects and fears history. When it comes to visualising the concept of looking back, I am afraid I am not so impressed with the story of Ado, Lot’s wife who dared to look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. I subscribe to the more recent view of the philosopher George Santayana who once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.