Every successful company and organization inevitably must confront a key question: Is what got us to where we are today helping us to move forward, or holding us back? We’re thinking and acting as usual, but something is misfiring.
You may be dealing with what I refer to as “legacy thinking.” And, left unchecked, legacy thinking can pose enormous obstacles to your continued success—or worse.
Legacy Technology—Dangerous But Also Diverting
Legacy thinking has a better-known cousin—legacy technology. As you probably know, legacy technology refers to hardware and/or software that we have been using for many years and depend on, but that is not as cost efficient or productive as newer systems. In addition, it lacks the capabilities needed to transform business processes and services and acts like a break that is slowing our progress down. Legacy technology can include everything from software to operating systems to most any type of technology that once may have been perfectly adequate but now is well past its prime.
Legacy technology is a major headache. Not only can it be expensive to maintain, breakdowns are almost inevitable. Just ask Delta Airlines, the British bank Tesco or any other company whose legacy software caused breakdowns and data breaches.
Those are certainly major headaches. But legacy technology isn’t just a problem in and of itself—it can blind leaders to the perils of legacy thinking.
From where I sit, that’s an even more dangerous concern.
Legacy Thinking Defined
Like legacy technology, legacy thinking refers to thinking, strategies and other actions that, in their own way, are outdated. By that, I mean they’re no longer serving you to the extent that they may once have.
For instance, many organizations can point to certain types of business principles, strategies and other ways of thinking that underscored success. One example is agility, the ability to respond quickly to changing events and market conditions—a seeming silver bullet.
Agility is very important, but the benefit of reacting and responding to change decreases as change itself accelerates. We are now in a period of transformational change. Whether products, services or the marketplace, change is coming faster and faster, and it’s not slowing down. As change occurs more quickly, even the most agile of organizations will be hard pressed to keep up—let alone leap ahead with new ideas and innovations.
Now, broaden your thinking. Are other strategies or ideas helping you to move forward, or are they, in effect, holding you back? If they’re in the second category, that’s legacy thinking.
Change Your Thinking, Change Your Results
The first thing to understand about legacy thinking is that it isn’t necessarily all bad. Overcoming legacy thinking doesn’t mandate a complete whitewash of every strategy, idea or other leadership concept you may have used in the past.
Instead, break the issue down a bit. Identify those ideas and strategies that are timeless and will continue to serve you well. By the same token, pinpoint others that may have worn out their value. Take agility. There will always be unexpected changes, fires to put out and other immediate issues that warrant an agile response. But it’s not the panacea it once might have been.
Consider other forms of legacy thinking. For instance, maybe you or some others in your organization have been hesitant to embrace certain forms of new technology that may be critical to your future growth and success. From a legacy thinker’s point of view, what’s the point? The good old days of our industry are well behind us.
In some cases, it may be prudent to shift legacy thinkers who have years of valuable experience into different roles—not a demotion by any means, but a sideways move so their attitude won’t hinder the company’s new direction and vision.
Challenge others! Ask them to identify those strategies, ideas and tools that will, in fact, serve the company well as it moves forward. A key is to eliminate the things that are holding you back. By having them decide what to keep and what to discard, they will be actively shaping the future, and the process will allow them to see firsthand how powerful certain tools and ideas can be. Walk them into the future—they may well like what they see!
So don’t limit your attention to just legacy technology. Broaden the picture a bit to include the pitfalls of legacy thinking. Just like old software that can shut down an entire airline, so, too, can legacy thinking cripple your organization.
On the other hand, like hardware and software, there’s always the opportunity for an upgrade in the way you think and act. And if you can change the way you think, you can dramatically change your results for the better.
Daniel Burrus has been trusted by leaders from Fortune 500 Companies, the Pentagon and Heads of State to deliver a message that accurately predicts future trends and identifies game chaning opportunities before the competition. Click here to see some of Daniel Burrus’ Sample Keynote Topics