I picked Herman up from the garage yesterday. At nearly fifty years old, he was certainly the odd one out on the forecourt, surrounded by gleaming Range Rovers and chunky Discoveries and Defenders. But he was the only one with a crowd around him when i turned up: the people down from Land Rover head office, interested in what such an old vehicle was doing there.
As i spoke to one of them, he said that, whilst Herman is old, clunky, hard to drive and smells of petrol, he was part of the our heritage, and valued for that reason. Strange words really, for a mechanic. But very true: we are only what we are because of what once was.
From our heritage, we learn something about what works and what doesn’t. This is as true of our learning heritage as our mechanical one: we learn what ideas and values worked and what didn’t. Understanding which ideas have stood the test of time, which knowledge has been useful, which advice we should have heeded but let fall by the wayside, this is part of our learning journey. Not our formal, scripted journey, but the personal heritage of learning that we build upon.
I was working with a team around a customer service project yesterday when one of them said, rather petulantly, ‘but we did this three years ago, why hasn’t it worked?’ Well, the only answer to this was that perhaps ‘it’ did work, but it worked three years ago. Rather like keeping Herman on the road, you don’t just fix him once and he goes forever, but rather he runs until the next thing starts squeaking or falls off, until the next intervention is required. That organisation probably did solve it’s customer service challenge three years ago, but the world has changed: the challenge they face is how to learn from their heritage, the tribal knowledge that sits within the organisation, but how also to update and retell that story in a way that’s relevant today.
Whilst today’s commercial approach to the ‘heritage industry’ means that the term is often used to describe waxworks and stately homes with people dressed as Tudors, the terms has far wider meaning than that. Heritage is our history, our personal and societal story. It’s a rich vein of learning that we do well to remember, both organisationally and personally.