Gerwig 2013-11-01

Do you own or lease a car? … You might own a car. You might borrow a car. Or you might take public transportation. But I’m willing to bet that most of you are closely associated with someone who owns or leases a car.

My first car was a 1970 VW beetle that I bought from my dad. Really, the money I gave him for the car just went to some of the improvements he made prior to turning over the keys to me. He had the car painted. He and I installed new carpeting and seat covers. It was a great car. I drove it through college and during the first few years after I got married and started working. Since then, I’ve owned numerous cars, new and used. That is until we moved to the Philippines.

For the two years we were in the Philippines, we were assigned a car and driver. We sold our cars in the US and went “carless” while abroad. However, when we returned, we needed cars again. To make a long story short, we bought two Toyota Prius’s. Why? Mostly because they met our driving needs and consumed little gas compared with other cars.

One thing we noticed when test-driving the cars was that they had a bright blue knob to put the car into drive or reverse. In fact, driving the car was not intuitive. It took some getting used to. In the end however, we love ‘em. They drive nicely, get great gas mileage and have a really cool blue knob.

One new experience for me is that when you put the car in reverse, the Prius “beeps” like a large truck that is backing up. Frankly, I find it a bit annoying. But recently, it’s caused me to think about shifting into reverse.

You see, when you make a decision and take action, you’re moving forward. It’s like you’re in “drive.” In fact, once the road is clear, you push on the accelerator and take off. Most people prefer to drive forward and don’t care to drive far (or fast) in reverse. It’s not natural. When you see race drivers going around the track, you see them going forward. The car, engine and chassis are all designed for the car to be driven forward. You, as the driver, prefer to drive forward because you don’t have to turn your head or look where you’re going in the rearview mirror. When you’re driving forward, you’re looking out a large windshield. Driving backward is uncomfortable compared with driving forward.

Many of you like to take action. You like to make things happen. You like to reach goals. And set new performance records. Truth is, you not only like to drive forward, you don’t like to use the brakes. It’s full speed ahead. All the time. Trust me, I get it.

Yet there are times when you need reverse. You may not be able to get where you’re going without it. Why? Because constraints have changed, conditions have changed, priorities have changed, circumstances have changed, stakeholders have changed, etc. In short, you need to occasionally stop the car and put it in reverse. There are many events in life that cause us to take stock and reassess. The result? Maybe we stay on the same course. But maybe we need to shift into reverse and take another course of action.

Let’s take a simple example. Let’s say that you were planning to buy or lease a home. You set an amount for the payment you can afford. And then, prior to signing the contract, you accept a job transfer across the country. Would you still sign the contract? No. Conditions have changed. You have new information. You no longer need a home in New York, you need a home in Texas. You need to stop, put the car in reverse and take a different course of action.

You can probably think of many events that can cause you to re-evaluate. The birth of a child. A new job. Marriage. The death of a family member. A change in income. A graduation. A new relationship. Any number of changes can occur that will cause you to reassess.

Please take time to notice when significant changes occur that should prompt an assessment. Continue? Stop? Change course? Don’t put blinders on and ignore changes in your environment. Maybe you should keep accelerating forward. But it’s at least worth some deliberate thought about whether that remains the best course of action.

One caution, when you make a commitment to another person, a team or an organization, don’t reverse course without communicating to others or honoring your commitments. For example, if you agree to an organizational decision, don’t leave the conference room and undercut that decision later. If putting the car in reverse impacts others directly because they’re in the car, you owe it to them to discuss any course change.

How about you? How do like driving in reverse? Does it feel natural or weird? Are you willing to put the car in reverse when necessary and change direction? When your decision impacts others, do you consult with them first?

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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