When you ask why we do things the way we do them in almost every company where I’ve worked, the answer is invariably the same: “because we’ve always done it that way.”
When I hear something like this, I know that people have stopped asking questions and challenging the status quo, which is one of our fundamental roles as leaders.
This is what I understand as tradition. There is a great quote regarding tradition
“Just because you’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean it’s not stupid”.
We should always be looking for “faster, better, cheaper” ways of doing things and if we don’t do this then we are stagnating, as it’s unlikely – no matter how much we would like to believe it – that we have developed the perfect process.
Often, we actually don’t know why we do something the way we do it.
There is a great story about an experiment with 5 monkeys.
The 5 monkeys were kept in a cage with a ladder. Some bananas were kept on the top of the ladder. Whenever one of the monkeys would climb the ladder to get the bananas, all the monkeys were sprayed with ice-cold water.
Soon, the monkeys begin to police themselves and would prevent any other monkey from climbing the ladder.
Eventually, the cold water was turned off, but the monkeys kept policing themselves. Then, one monkey was removed, and another monkey put in its place. Sure, the monkey didn’t know about the forbidden bananas, so when it tried to get the banana, the other monkeys would stop him. Soon, the new monkey started policing the other monkeys too.
Eventually, one by one all the monkeys were replaced in the group, but the monkeys kept policing themselves, even though none of the original monkeys was there and the reason for policing themselves was now non-existent. Not one of the current monkeys had ever been sprayed with water or had seen a monkey sprayed with water.
This was their tradition, not that monkeys were sprayed with water, but that monkeys who tried to take bananas were attacked. How crazy is that?
I really like this story as I think it simply shows the problems that can arise when we become slaves to tradition.
This doesn’t mean that all traditions are bad, but I do believe we should constantly question and challenge the way we do things, and never settle for the answer “because we always did it that way”.
In my experience the more tradition a company has, the more resistant it is to change, to new ideas.
With no new ideas, we stop evolving, when we stop evolving, we are stagnating.
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