For company book club, we just read Creativity, Inc. A particular passage had special resonance:
Hindsight is not 20-20. Not even close. Our view of the past, in fact, is hardly clearer than our view of the future. While we know more about a past event than a future one, our understanding of the factors that shaped it is severely limited. Not only that, because we think we see what happened clearly— hindsight being 20-20 and all— we often aren’t open to knowing more. “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it— and stop there,” as Mark Twain once said, “lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again— and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” The cat’s hindsight, in other words, distorts her view. The past should be our teacher, not our master.
This dovetailed with an insight from a really sappy movie I watched on my way back from China, Labor Day. That insight was the importance of treading carefully in the lessons that we take away from experiences. From the quote above, hindsight is *not* 20-20. I wrote about this idea a few months ago, from the movie, Her: “The past is just a story we tell ourselves.” Just this week I was absolutely blown away when I learned that someone I had to come to care for had constructed a story of the past few months that was diametrically opposed to my own. Now, with a bit of space, I’ve chalked it up to their past history + the stories they needed to construct to just get by. The far bigger and more important implication are the lessons we take away when something impactful happens. Given that hindsight isn’t 20-20 and that we each construct stories to cope, and get by, there’s this huge danger that we learn lessons imbued with the wrong takeaways. We’re not even aware of the subtext, our baggage, the invisible layers that we’ve constructed from our past and the origin of our lessons. One day in the future, maybe we look back, and in a moment of clarity see the truth for what it actually was. It’s a very sobering thought that we can’t trust our past– that we can’t trust our memories.
I had breakfast with one of my board members on Thursday. Due to a number of factors, he was giving me a pep talk towards the end of our meal. One of the things that he said was the importance of taking punches. He’s an amateur boxer, and he was explaining to me the strategy of boxing and how one of the most important things can be to take punches, because you know it’s setting you up to be open for the shot that you’ll need to end the fight. I guess it’s not dramatically different from the trite “roll with the punches,” but it struck a chord. I’ve always had a tough time with losing. I don’t love winning, I just like it . But I absolutely *hate* losing. It eats at me. I have a set of questions for how I parse people, and this is one of them. Most people I know love winning more than they hate losing. I’m not sure I could be more the opposite. Anyway, this trait runs in the face of taking punches well. I’ve always chalked it up to my passion, intensity, and competitiveness. But for the first time, I’m thinking about how I can take the punches better and, maybe even accept losing, if possible. Like everyone, I want to win the war, and sometimes you have to be OK losing battles along the way to do so.
I felt like I got punched in the face this week. I have to keep reminding myself that my challenge is to not take away the wrong lessons. My challenge is to take the punch and set myself up for what’s next. I don’t want to be the cat who doesn’t sit down on a cold pot. I hate even the idea that the past could be my master vs just my teacher.
So, go read Creativity, Inc. Be careful not to draw the long lesson from a painful experience. Maybe take some boxing lessons. Sit on a cold pot.
*Standard disclaimer: This post is unedited so that I’d actually post it vs keeping it in draft for the next 12 months. I’ll remove this once I do a quick pass on it.