One of my early learning moments as a consultant came when a client asked “do you think you have to have managed others to really help a manager?” I quickly and genuinely responded that sometimes what one does not know could be helpful. It was what my psychology professor called “therapeutic ignorance”.

Of course there are many potential advantages to knowing something about the thing you dare to help others on. One challenge is how to use your own experiences, i.e. biases, as helpful reference points but not as blueprints for how to understand another person’s or organization’s circumstances and options.

Having recently come back into the role of president for a national professional organization, many things are familiar. I draw a certain amount of comfort from having experienced this role before. Others ascribe to me significant credibility based on what they recall of those earlier experiences. I am however very mindful that prior experience provides an important foundation for learning. If I dare believe everything is exactly the same, over-rely on past experience, and play it the same way as before, how can I expect a different outcome?

I go back to my experience and the experience of my clients for sure. My intention however is to go back…to the future. I want to use the past as a reference point, an important input. The desirable outcome is what we learn from that experience that enables us to be more effective in the future.

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