Siliconcowboy's Blog

Technology, journalism, social media and social responsibility

My Imperfect Life: Managing The Creative Post-Mortem

I’m increasingly aware of the missteps I have taken in my life. Things that might have been done better.

Friends tell me: “No shoulda-coulda-woulda.” In other words, Don’t over-analyze the past, you can’t change it and you will only make yourself upset thinking about it. And perhaps that’s true.

But there are many situations in life where it makes sense to review events and think about how things might be done differently to achieve a better result in the future. If the future is that predictable, and sometimes it is.

For example military troops routinely practice and review things like how to conduct a raid or fight an airborne enemy. NASA reviews launches, even when they go off picture perfect. Doctors review their surgeries, police officers document arrests, and teachers make note of nearly everything that happens in their classes each week.

Reviews or post-mortems can be done individually or in a group. It’s often harder to see where something might have gone wrong or, where it might be improved, if the review is done alone. Group post-mortems can develop into creative sessions, where the material is analyzed, discussed and reorganized in ways that are designed to create a different result.

At a company I recently contracted with, post-mortems of activities at major events or projects were routine. They were usually kicked off by team members themselves, rather than the team leader, and everyone shared in a round-robin fashion what they thought of the overall outcome, where things went well and where they might have been improved. Specific examples of ways to achieve this improvement were expected, so participants had to come into these meetings prepared to be able to contribute.

And that’s the key to a post-mortem: being able to contribute in a specific, helpful way.

A manager I had many years ago often said, “If you’re coming to me with a problem, I don’t want to hear it. Bring a solution.” In fact, the entire company operated on this principle: everyone was expected to find their own solutions to challenges, and present these to management. If you weren’t sharp enough or didn’t have the initiative to figure things out for yourself, you didn’t belong with the company.

It’s important not to allow the post-mortem to become a practiced routine, designed to show only accomplishments and highlights. While gathering this information may be important as a means to develop relevant information to show to management, it doesn’t point up deficiencies and it’s not really helpful in terms of doing things better in the future.

Some of the best efforts develop out of deep, creative post-mortems, where individual contributors collaboratively develop innovative ways to improve plans or designs. If a post-mortem veers off into a creative jam session like this, let it: these moments are golden.

But even a great creative session may not develop into an actionable plan unless someone takes the initiative to move the idea forward.  This is where it becomes important to evaluate the strength of the teams ideas, rate them, and decide on a course of action based on at least one and perhaps several suggestions.

Individuals should be encouraged to take ownership of these suggestions to move them forward. If no one does, the idea should be set aside or scrapped. It’s often difficult even in the best of circumstances to move an idea forward, but really good ideas shouldn’t be left behind.

Which brings me around to my opening thoughts. We all encounter challenges in life. And we are not alone. Many of the things that pop up to stress us out – kids acting out, cars breaking down, checkbooks not balancing, failing to live up to our own expectations – have been experienced by others before us.

There are solutions, and if we can’t figure them out for ourselves, there are resources within reach.

Just as importantly, if a review of our day or week or month or life doesn’t include some specific agreement on our part to do something different that is designed to achieve a better result, we’re destined to fall back into the same dysfunctional routine.

We’re all capable of the creative stretch. We’re all capable of bold action. We can own good ideas and act on them right now.

No matter what your challenges, no matter how badly you’ve messed up, every step you take to improve your life now, will help you to achieve something better.

And remember: you are never alone.

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