“This is how we’ve always done it”

I was recently surprised by a question about a simple, routine business process. For lack of a better response, I calmly blurted out the familiar retort, “I’ve always done it this way.”

Initially, I wondered why only just now I was being asked about the process. I was taken aback. After all, the process seemed to work fine and no one had complained in the past. However, I refrained myself from being affronted or resenting the question. In fact, after my initial response, I paused and became more reflective.

I caught myself and made it clear that I was open to considering another way — a better way.

I used the experience as an opportunity to reflect on other areas in which I don’t fully understand the purpose and rationale for what I’m doing. In short, in what other ways am I doing things just because “This is how we’ve always done it”?

If I can eliminate or change activities and habits that are pointless, I can focus on the vital few things that are really important, cut out waste, and become more effective.

If I can discipline myself to be a “second set of eyes,” ask thoughtful questions, and embrace a constructive challenge process for myself and others, I can drive progress and excellence rather than the mediocrity of “the way it has always been done.”

We can easily get into routines and ruts. We can become blinded to our habits of inefficiency and congratulate ourselves that we are getting so much done. But doing busy work is often little more effective than digging a hole, moving the dirt, and then filling the dirt back into the hole. Sure, as long as one makes sure to lose sight of the “bigger picture,” one can feel “successful” at “doing” a lot, all while accomplishing nothing much of significance.

Standard processes and procedures are often very helpful. Once optimized, there is no reason to “reinvent the wheel” and make constant unneeded changes. In fact, I recommend documenting standardized policies and procedures in writing. However, there is a fine line between optimized “best practices” and doing something “the way it has always been done” for no good reason.

Often, change is needed. In fact, if you’re not the one driving change positively, you can expect the unpleasant surprise of change driving you, often in a negative direction.

In what areas, whether in your personal life or business activities, can you cut out the wasteful activities that you blindly perform simply because “this is how it’s always been done”? Take some time to reflect deeply on opportunities for improvement. Then take the initiative to cut waste and become more efficient in your activities and habits.