In our personal and professional lives, we are creatures of habit. As we mature we tend to hold onto old habits or approaches that are no longer relevant to our needs.
If you are guilty of this natural human phenomenon like most of us are, I urge you to reevaluate your processes from time to time to see if they pass what I call the “relevance” test.
Consider this story:
A loving mother was teaching her newly engaged daughter how to cook a roast “just like Grandma’s.”
“First,” the mother said, “you have to cut two inches from each end.”
Just then, Grandma entered the kitchen, and noticing the freshly trimmed roast asked,
“Why did you cut off the ends?”
“That’s how you always did it,” replied the mother.
“Yes,” said Grandma, “but that was only because my roasting pan was too small.”
Always Be Willing to Explore the Why Behind the What
The relevance test can serve corporations as well as individuals. Many leaders are dismayed when their probing questions about WHY are answered with, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Leaders who explore and ask for the “why behind the what” in their own processes would do well to teach their teams to do the same, by example.
We Are Creatures of Habit
As creatures of habit, it’s quite natural for us to want to hold onto our old perceptions, approaches or methods. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; however, as things change, we may find our old ways have become less relevant or useful.
While conducting leadership development with a client in California, I asked 32 senior managers to join me in a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. At first they laughed, but as I began blindfolding my first volunteer, they realized I was serious.
The first volunteer’s efforts yielded less than stellar results as he pinned the tail on the wall almost six feet away from the donkey. As I blindfolded the next volunteer, I informed everyone that from that point on, each volunteer would get a helper. The only rule was that the helper was not allowed to touch the person wearing the blindfold. The competitive juices of the leadership team began to flow as each helper carefully guided his/her respective “pinner” closer and closer to the correct part of the donkey’s anatomy. In fact, the eighth person was able to pin the tail in exactly the correct spot in exactly the correct angle.
The ninth, tenth and eleventh pinners followed suit with equally perfect placements. By this point, the group was becoming a bit cocky and restless, but I continued on with the game.
After blindfolding the twelfth volunteer, I asked him if he had any questions.
“Yes,” he said, “Just one.” Then he turned to his assistant and asked, “Would you go pin this on the donkey for me? I can’t see a darn thing through this blindfold.” To the surprise of the entire group, she simply picked up the tail and positioned it perfectly in its proper place.
Even a Flawed Process Can Yield Good Results, Over Time
There are many lessons that can be learned from this fun exercise:
- lessons about the importance of working as a team,
- lessons about how reticent we are to let go of our roles,
- lessons about how we sometimes have a tendency to apply old rules to new games
- However, the lesson I’d like you to consider today is one that this leadership team won’t forget: even a flawed process can yield good results over time.
Reassess Habits to Remain Relevant
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be a creature of habit, especially when it comes to your health. However, we are living in an ever-changing world. In order for us to maximize our growth potential (either as companies or as individuals), it’s important for us to learn to objectively assess our habitual thoughts, assumptions, approaches, behaviors and processes periodically.
Organizations that continue to manage to the past and not for the “times they are in” may find it difficult to seize new opportunities and achieve greater success.
As it’s rather difficult (if not impossible) for us to be objective when examining ourselves, it’s good to have a satellite partner who can offer his/her perspective. This is someone with whom you share a particular gravitational force – be it your objective, your drive or your purpose. Your satellite partner could be a spouse, a friend, a client or a mentor or advisor.
The relevance test is challenging, yet it’s the all-important first step in the transition process. If put to use earnestly and often, it may be just the thing to keep creatures of habit from rendering themselves irrelevant.