The best way forward? Turn around and look back.

There’s an important issue that has been raised by many at the forefront of innovation.  The pace of change is naturally becoming even faster.  At the GDS Sprint 15 conference Martha Lane Fox said that breathlessness wasn’t enough to categorise the pace of change to come.  “We’ll be panting” she said.


The issue is backward compatibility.  There’s no guarantees that any new device or tech will facilitate any kind of transfer from the old.  Got pics that you cherish saved? Better start printing.  Wherever they’re saved now may easily be redundant in the near future.  The cloud won’t last as the storage venue of choice. This is a bit of a pain isn’t it?  Looking backwards would make going forwards much better.


For true future progress the developers must look backwards as well as forwards or, as one of the “fathers of the internet” Vint Cerf says we will face the onset of the digital dark ages.


Show me a training scheme (and people do that all the time) and I’ll  suggest a way it can be improved by building in an element where the trainers stop and listen to how the delegates think that the new stuff works from the heritage they know well.  Better than merely learning the new (and often quickly forgetting its application) let the trainees decide how the new will change the old.  It will usually stick better and deliver real change faster.  I yield to few in my impatience for positive change but if looking backwards means the changes stick and are real then it’s crucial.


Don’t just drive forwards, allow backwards reflection to deliver real change.


The Fosbury Flop is often cited as a great example of innovation, of thinking outside the box.  I first heard of it when a top agency suit was proposing a radical new ad strategy to the client and began with the inspirational clip of Dick Fosbury taking the high jump gold medal at the Olympics by going over the bar backwards in 1968.


A new world record was set. Fantastic progress.  Yet in fact Fosbury was going back to a technique he’d developed at high school, and was driven to do so by back problems.  So a great, literal, leap forward from being constrained to go backwards and then painfully, gradually, making small incremental changes to his old way of jumping.


For best foot forwards, sometimes you’ve got to turn around.



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