Four Great Ways to Uncheck the Box

“The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” Jim Hightower

Is conformity and stupidity the surer path to the common definition of success? The article “Stupefied,” by Andre Spicer, puts forth that we educate people to be creative thinkers, yet once in the workforce, reward them for following the herd.

One premise is that we are conditioned to “check the boxes,” rather than question why the boxes exist in the first place. Policies and processes abound in organizations.  Filling out forms, producing reports, getting signatures and forming committees pave the paths to decision making and progress. Are leaders receptive to challenges to the paths, including those they paved themselves?

The best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo, proffers that anything in your life that doesn’t bring you joy should be discarded. In business, anything that doesn’t provide value should be radically altered or outright discarded. This isn’t about disdaining or hating the “as is;” it was likely disruptive in the past. I’m not tossing out the sweater purchased in the late 90s because I hate it. I’m putting it in a donation bag because I’ve gotten the value from it, and it is no longer worth the storage space.

Leadership needs to accept and encourage questions and challenges from new employees, who will bring fresh eyes and new perspectives.

  1. First impressions count. Regardless of role, get new employees feedback on getting IDs and parking spaces, attending orientation, filling out I9s, getting a computer. Make sure you do something about with the feedback. Companies spend thousands on hiring each employee; is their initial experience making them glad they accepted your offer?
  2. Ban defensiveness. One of the worst responses to a question or challenge from a new employee is “well, here at ABC Company we do it this way” and proceed to defend why something is what it is. This sends a message that they are an outsider and shouldn’t question the status quo.  A better response is “tell me more; I like to hear new perspectives.”
  3. Support change. The processes and systems that new employees want to change were likely built by existing and valued employees, including leaders. Make sure that leaders aren’t blocking needed change or disdainful of anything “not invented here.” If existing leaders can’t deal with challenges to their processes and systems, you may need new leaders. Also – be an exemplar; find something you built and have it eradicated or altered.
  4. New is not always more valuable. All the above being said, not all new things can or should be invested in. Intake (crowdsource?) new ideas energetically, make sure they aren’t discarded to protect the status quo, but also don’t fall prey to “bright shiny object” syndrome where new is automatically determined to be better. In particular, watch for fit with mission and values.

Don’t hire people and turn them into clones of existing employees. Hire smart people and give them the tools to transform.

“The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do.” BF Skinner

Worth considering:

I still maintain that NextDraft, by @davepell, is one of the best and most thought-provoking daily compilations of news. It brings forth the articles I should read (like the Aeon piece referenced above) but most likely wouldn’t have.

Blackberry has stopped making smartphones. I remember the day I held the first Blackberry (it looked like an up-market pager) in my hand and learned how to type with my thumbs. A story of amazing innovation that faded to dwindling market share.


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