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Are You Living in Groundhog Day?

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus


“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” – Bill Murray, Groundhog Day


Bill Murray, playing a cynical TV weatherman in the 1993 hit movie, Groundhog Day, is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual event where a groundhog (Punxsutawney Phil) comes out of his den and predicts whether we will have an early spring or longer winter. (For any fellow southerners, there is a version of this named General Beauregard Lee in Georgia!) The entire premise of the movie is that Phil (Bill Murray) must repeat the same day over and over again until he can live the perfect day.

While the film puts an extreme spin on the idea of monotony, the truth is that many people are living in their own version of Groundhog Day – the same decisions, the same meeting outcomes, the same performance reviews, the same grumbling of your loved ones…The same routines day after day after day!

All too often, we continue to repeat the same behaviors and wonder why our results have not changed. According to Albert Einstein, we are, by definition, insane: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” If you want to grow and learn as quickly as possible from your experiences, and not be caught in the proverbial Groundhog Day cycle, then follow these proven steps to better decision-making and overall growth:

1. The AAR – The After Action Report was originally invented and perfected by the US Army to analyze the outcome of any action. It is a clear comparison of intended vs. actual results, by asking questions such as, “What happened?”, “How did it happen?,” and “What did we learn?” The key to a highly productive AAR process is to preschedule the review as close to the ending of the event as possible, have all the relevant participants attend the review, and incorporate any and all learning into the revised process for subsequent iterations.


2. Hard on the System, Easy on the People – Ed Catmall, legendary co-founder and president of Pixar, states it this way: ”Mind the system, don’t manage the project.” All too often, when something does not go according to plan, we look for the person that made the mistake. What we must realize is that humans make mistakes; challenge the system or process first. What was the system or process that we used to complete this project? If it was a human error, was there first an error in training, instruction, or laying expectations? How can the system be improved? How can we create a process that will keep us from human error? In most cases, you will find there was little or no process, other than human decision making, to keep us from the failure we experienced.


3. Employ ‘Process-Based’ Rather Than ‘Outcome-Based’ Decision-Making – If you want to get to the rarefied air of high performance – or, as we called it in the military, ‘high speed, low drag’ – then you must switch to a process-based decision-making review. Gary Kasparov, in his book, How Life Imitates Chess, explains how he would review each chess match – and each and every move within the chess match – after it was over, so that he could improve. He did not concern himself with the move that may have lost him the game, as much as the thought process that preceded making the decision to complete the move. The result? Kasparov is considered by many to be the greatest chess master and world champion of all time.


4. Spend More Time Analyzing Wins Over Failures – Knowing why something is working is how you can build a great business or life. We want to repeat the successes, not try to only eliminate the failures.


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