In golf, when your mighty swing just nicks the ball, you’re golfing friends might allow you to take a Mulligan. It’s a do over, another swing, and everyone pretends like the first one never happened. (It’s not allowed in a professional game of golf).
In the movie, “When Harry Met Sally”, Harry says something, Sally reacts, and Harry says, “Okay, I take it back”. Sally says, “You can’t take it back, it’s already out there”.
There’s no turning back time. When you do something, say something, take an action, a reaction or result occurs. While there are times you get to do something over (at a cost), sometimes the damage is done and there’s no going back.
Mulligan Thinking is not about doing it over, but thinking about doing it over. Asking, “If I was to do this same thing again, have this same conversation again, be faced with this situation again, what would I do differently?”
The value of Mulligan Thinking is this: Circumstances, situations, and conversations often repeat themselves, perhaps with minor variations. If you can recognize a situation as being similar to one in the past, and one where you implemented Mulligan Thinking, then you will be prepared, and be more thoughtful, this new time around.
An example we’ve all experienced is in conversations. How many times have you started a conversation and in retrospect kicked yourself because you should have started it a different way. Use Mulligan Thinking to understand what you might have said differently, or how you might have approached the conversation differently, so the next similar one, you can start with the right words.
An example of something that happened to me just last week. My family and I were on spring break and at a hotel. At 2 A.M. the fire alarm rang. We gathered our wits and left the building. When we returned to the room I just thought for a few minutes about what we did and didn’t do and what I would change the next time, such as where to leave the room key and my wallet, and making sure all family members knew to look out the peep hole and feel the door temperature before opening the door. (FYI - A light fixture somewhere in the hotel burned out and puffed out some smoke that set-off the alarm).
After projects are completed, teams often have a “Post project analysis” or “lessons learned” to look back on what was done right, and what wasn’t. Use Mulligan Thinking not only to re-look at how things were accomplished, but what the thinking was like. Ask, what assumptions were made, and why, and if you could do it again, what would you change.
The Takeaway: While you can’t change the past, it often takes only a few minutes to think about, and take note of, what changes you would make if you had the ability to conduct a do-over, i.e. a Mulligan. This retrospective thinking will help you the next time a similar situation arises.