The Downside of Traditions
If I asked if you were serving sushi for your next Thanksgiving dinner, you'd give me a puzzled look and think to yourself, "who is this idiot?" Like millions of others, you'll likely enjoy turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the other traditional trimmings.
You follow tradition so there's no need to invent a special menu. By definition, you simply comply with the prescribed formula from the past. No need to think, whatsoever.
While traditions might be nice in a family setting, they can be disastrous in the business world. If you think about it, the whole idea of a tradition causes us to turn off our brains. It is the easy, lazy thing to do. Just blindly follow the past so you don't have to do the hard work of critical thinking in the present.
If your business is more than 12 months old, it has traditions. The problem is, they may not be helping to move your organization forward. Concepts, processes, techniques, and rituals of the past may hold you back in today's ultra-competitive climate. Worse yet, your team may be turning off their minds and failing to bring fresh ideas forward at the time your company needs it the most.
Great leaders are advocates for change. While they respect the past, they win by adapting to the present and architecting for the future. They overflow with curiosity and open-mindedness. They love to challenge the status quo. They focus on what's possible.
A Better Cut
My business partner, Dan Gilbert, is constantly obsessed with finding a better way. Challenging traditions enabled him to build the largest online mortgage company in the United States, QuickenLoans. His disregard for tradition allowed him to purchase and reinvent the Cleveland Cavilers, launch more than 40 other businesses, and now rebuild the City of Detroit. He's a brilliant visionary, renegade, and disruptor.
Dan loves to talk about shaking things up and shattering traditions. He also loves to talk about pumpkins.
Each Halloween we all rush to the pumpkin patch and then proceed to carve the same way. We cut the lid off the top, make a huge mess while scooping out the filling, and burn ourselves as we try to place the lit candle down the hole.
"Why not carve from the bottom?" asks Dan.
Think about it: Carve a hole in the bottom, and the mess comes out easily using gravity to your advantage. You now get to enjoy an original design feature of the pumpkin—the handle on top—for transportation. When lighting, place the candle on the carved base and then gently place the pumpkin over the top—no more second degree burns. If you stop to think about it, this is pretty much the ideal way to complete the task.
The problem is: most of us never stop to think about it. In our business lives, we follow routine with blinders on, refusing to challenge conventional thinking. We assume the status quo to be correct, and in doing so miss the opportunity to use creativity to drive progress.
Why not open your eyes wide and look for the "pumpkins" in your organization? Go on a mission to uncover those outdated traditions, and find a better way to "carve" them. The best leaders remain intensely focused on reinvention—from product design to logistics; marketing to facilities.
Stop Saluting the Flag of the Past
Sure there's a place in the world for traditions. But with fierce global competition, you need to deeply question the traditions of the past and focus on reinventing the future. There's little room to blindly follow what was. It's time to create. To question. To imagine. To innovate.
While you may not be serving Pan-Asian Fusion or pastrami from a local New York City Deli this Thanksgiving, think about the traditions in your organization and take a hard look at what should stay and what needs a fresh start. We all have incredible creative capacity and we need to bring it to the job daily. Now more than ever.
So whether you're passing the gravy or the sushi, now is a perfect time to focus on creating your own new, fresh, and game-changing traditions.