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Looking forward looking back

Opinion & Analysis
Winston Churchill famously noted that: “The further backwards you can look, the further forward you are likely to see”.

Winston Churchill famously noted that: “The further backwards you can look, the further forward you are likely to see”.


While I would be the last person to argue with a historical figure of his stature, I reckon the really important thing here is the value you derive from looking back.

When you drive a car you use the rear view mirrors, not for reviewing where you have been, but to anticipate what might be coming. This is the primary role of the rear view function.

I like to think that life is similar; that while reflection is necessary, it is only useful for purposes of forward planning. Looking back at the past in order to live in the past is likely to be counter-productive.

The year 2013 was a tough one for many Zimbabweans. While there was a lot of optimism and anticipation surrounding the elections, we ended the year with a painful thump as our economic reality hit us rather hard on the head.

So yes, agreed, that was our reality – now what? Should we keep recycling the pain, revisiting the shock, replaying the movie of the budget and all its implications, or rewriting the messages on the wall that point to tough times for all?

Well, yes, we could indeed — and it would be understandable and probably quite natural. But if we are to make real progress in the coming year, we need to look back only so that we can anticipate what is coming and plan for how we will engage with it in a way that delivers the best benefit for us.

I had a white pastor once who used to preach that black people are no good at long-range planning and this is evidenced by the absence of a word in Shona which means future.

Notwithstanding the many, many shortcomings in his analysis, least of which is the obvious assumption that all black people are Shona-speaking, one can perhaps try to understand the point he was (unsuccessfully) trying to make.

It is possibly true that an environment of abundance does not breed a culture of long-range planning.

But Africa has changed a great deal for us Africans and the understanding of abundance has shifted with a shrinking world and greater demand for all resources, both natural and otherwise.

We, therefore, have to cultivate the culture of planning if we are to survive.

Anyone who has ever tried to change or even affect a culture, whether it concerns a family or a corporate, can tell you that it’s a monumental task. It requires full commitment, and an ability to bring on board primarily the people who have disproportionate influence in that community.

For us to derive value from looking back, not only to 2013, but beyond, the questions we must ask ourselves, as a nation, as communities, as families and individuals will include:

What do we want this season to deliver?

What did we do well in the past?

What did we do badly in the past?

Is there opportunity to capitalise on what we did well and make it better, or increase its impact?

What resources, processes and technologies do we already possess, and what will we need going forward?

Who will drive the process and what are the timings?

And then, of course, there is the issue of implementation and immediacy. There is no point in using our history to draft the best plan in the world if we are not going to implement it.

And implementation is a process that has to start right away. As General George Paton once said: “A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.” But let’s not take the “violently” in his words too literally, amigos!

As we step in the squeaky clean year, we can, therefore, use our baggage from years gone by to craft a better tomorrow.

May you experience the wonder of many “Aha” moments as you reflect on the past, and enjoy the delicious anticipation of making plans for moving forward; and, best of all, may you execute with excellence so that you reap an abundant harvest from all your endeavours.

May God establish the work of our hands this year.