Why do we ruminate on what we think we should have done? What we could have done? What we would have done?
It sure can be easy to beat ourselves up especially with the benefit of learning from an experience; otherwise known as hindsight. I should have asked that question differently. I could have been more clear. I would have said it differently if I knew what the outcome would be.
There's the rub. We think we should have made better choices based on the outcome. This assumes we do not make the best choices possible with the best information available at the time allowable. Sounds like a losing proposition!
This is the embodiment of why I'm very critical about case studies. Perhaps I've not engaged in a thorough exercise. In short, my experience follows this formula:
Decide to engage in a case study competition.
Get on a team (one way or another).
Do not ask questions; just write responding to the information you have.
Read the case study.
Case study summary
Subjects, Greene, Browne, White, and Plum engage in behaviors A, B, and C. There are conflicts 1, 2, and 3.
Discuss, debate, argue, agree, write up a response.
Participant's responses are judged and a winner is announced.
All Participants in unison from the crowd, "What really happened!?"
Judge smugly, "Well, this was my case study, and it really happened. What we did was...[insert fully unpredictable outcomes here]"
Judge adds, "What wasn't in the case study were a few details like... [information that would have fully changed every response of every participant in the room. And the next room.]"
Participants look at one another and gently shake heads or roll eyes.
Well no joke. If I'd had the information that you just presented, of course the case study my team submitted would have been written up differently. We didn't get to have an investigation in the middle of the case study so no, we couldn't have known to expect behaviors D, E, F, G, H, and I to be engaged by the stated subjects and add in Subjects Boddy, Scarlet, Pink, and Jones.
Is the case study really thinly veiled reason for the judge with the most ridiculous story to have an audience for the story? What do participants have to gain from engaging in this kind of case study? Case studies can be done well, but many follow the "no way you could have known" model. Why do we do this to one another? Back to the question of why do we go back and say we should have known about a situation where there was no way to know anything more unless there was more or different intervention or investigation?
The most gracious reason is we like to improve and do better. The more insidious reason is that we allow ourselves to delve into perceived failure and deficit mindsets. Some people tell stories of glory days gone by. More people think about how differently things would have turned out if they had just done something different. Again, why?
Hypothesis: Because there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. If there is no action we can take, then there is no accountability. If there is no accountability, there is no responsibility. Finally, with no responsibility, then we can proceed without making a change.
No one has a time machine and no one can change what they've already done. The option is to accept the hypothesis up to a point. There is nothing we can do to change the past. There is no one else holding us accountable. However, if we can't change the past, we can only change behavior in the present to affect our future.
The questions must be less about what we should have done and more about what we could do differently next time. Less ruminated on what we would have done if we had known and more effort toward trying to gather more information to understand situations more richly to make a better decision.
We can't change behavior in the past, we can only change behavior now and moving forward. The best way to change behavior is to say it out loud, in front of people, and commit. Better still is to have an accountability partner or coach to help out. Not to belittle, but to encourage and remind you of the goals you said you'd set. There's nothing wrong with accountability.
In fact, there is almost certainly something wrong without accountability.