In the Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge writes about the seven “learning disabilities” in organizations. These are the anti-patterns of team learning.

Among them, the one I find the most interesting, is the fixation on events. This is the behaviour created by reacting to short term events. Senge writes:

Generative learning cannot be sustained in an organization if people’s thinking is dominated by short-term events. If we focus on events, the best we can ever do is predict an event before it happens so that we can react optimally. But we cannot learn to create.

Peter Kang expands on this in his blog post:

“We lost on too many deals this quarter so that is why we are not doing well financially right now” is a linear thought I’ve had one too many times over the years. Of course, this fixation on short-term events is a real handicap and often leads to reactive behavior, like trying desperately to take on whatever new business we can to keep the business going.

Thinking about our various activities on a longer time horizon and shifting away from a linear view of why things are the way they are can open up a lot of new possibilities. This is a big part of what Senge writes about later on in the book with systems thinking.

I generally agree with this. What I’ve seen happen is using a singular event as an example of causal behaviour. From the world of data science - “the plural of anecodote is not data”.

However I think there is value in learning how to string together events. Ignoring events can lead to another learning disability - the parable of the boiled frog - where each individual event is dismissed and can lead to disaster.

Another nuance to this is that fixation on events can be good if there’s a broader sense of self awareness. A ‘self aware’ individual and team will be able to strengthen it’s reaction to events, by noticing its own reaction and learning how to better keep itself prepared in the future.