Prison Walls Of Experience


"All of us are prisoners, to one degree or another, of our experience."

And it is the prison walls of experience that obscure potential, possibilities, change and seeing the future.

Not too long ago, I met with someone “to imagine the future, not relive the past”. The intention was not to divorce the conversation from the past, but to avoid the fixation on past grievances, perceived wrong doings, and missing opportunities – the iron bars of so many conversations.

The meeting was really an interview where my questions focused first on the current condition and later moved to inquiries about an ideal future.

It was interesting to sense in the discussion the presence of the past. But as the conversation progressed with more future-forward questions, I could see the constraints of experience had become an obstacle. A vision of a future was out of sight.

When considering change, I do not think it is possible to wholly disassociate from the past. Our experiences are part of who we are and, more importantly, our past in some way informs our future. Our wisdom, knowledge, creativity and gut feelings are the results of our experiences.

But in considering a bold, new future – say, five years hence – what is the past? There is no yesterday – it hasn’t yet occurred. In fact, there will be a five-year span devoid of past experiences.

If we considered all the experiences, good and bad, that actually occurred over the past five years, is that information not woefully out of date when projecting into the future? In fact, in our five-year visioning plan those experiences will be up to ten years out of date.

I doubt anyone would say that an experience in 2004 is still significantly impacting his or her work in today’s rapidly changing world.

So, why drag forward the past when considering our future?

Somehow we need to find in ourselves the strength and courage to break free from the iron bars and scale the prison walls of our past experiences. The past will always be there, but we don’t need to be shackled to it.

Quote from Competing for the Future by CK Prahalad and Gary Hamel.