“If past history were all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.” – Warren Buffet
It was the beginning of the semester and our professor was explaining the requirements for our class paper. He was on a bit of a tear, addressing one of his favorite (or least favorite) pet peeves:
“…And do NOT write me a paper that discusses how everything today would be different if the Germans had won WWII. You cannot know what would have happened because it did NOT happen. You cannot support such a paper with valid facts and proven academic resources. Do you know why you cannot support such a paper? Because there are no credible academic sources for you to use, that paper is a work of fiction. Please write that paper in your creative writing class.”
As you can see this was a non-negotiable item for him. While his aim was to teach us how to write an academic quality paper about history, he also was making an important point about life: You cannot go back and change your past. You cannot unsay things that were said or undo actions that were taken. Spending time on what could have happened, or what would have happened is not very useful. Not in our personal lives and not in our professional lives.
In our projects, we want to collect lessons learned and we want to review lessons learned from past projects. The purpose is not to dwell on what happened and how it could have been different. The purpose is to apply those lessons learned to our current and future projects so that we can improve our ability to deliver. Even if you look at a lesson from a previous project, and even if the project had been executed differently, if that specific lesson learned had been known in advance, there is no guarantee that the project would have ended differently. There are many variables that contribute to project success.
The same can be said of our interactions with our project stakeholders and other colleagues and our friends and family. We want to learn from those interactions and grow. It makes no sense to keep replaying a difficult conversation over and over again in your head. Process what happened. Take note of some ideas of how to interact in future and similar difficult conversations. Then let it go and move on. Next time make use of your lessons learned, collect new lessons and just keep going.