One of my favourite books is Charles Handy’s ‘The Age of Unreason’ where he puts forward some unreasonable ideas to solve problems. Using unreason can be both simple and effective but it also appeals because I like to find solutions that are right under other peoples noses. When there is a complicated problem to solve, many people will look for a complicated solution as if one must go with the other. Sometimes the elegant (and simple) solution can be found using unreason. Consider a common problem, that of traffic on our motorways. In order to get more cars along a given stretch of motorway we often have campaigns to increase the speed limit. Our motorways are not just race tracks. They have junctions, accidents and many different vehicles and driving styles which cause disturbances in the traffic. Often reducing the speed limit (as seen on many of our UK motorways with variable speed limits) actually decreases journey times. So in order to solve many of our business issues we could accept less money, work less hours or reduce our profits. At home we could buy smaller houses or hoard less possessions! In short we could stop looking for innovative solutions in the same place as everybody else. We could actually look for the wrong answers and maybe turn up a right answer or two.
It’s time to deeply question the traditions of the past and focus on reinventing the future. It’s time to question, imagine and create
What are you having for your Sunday lunch this week? If you live in the UK I would lay odds on the reply being a Sunday Roast with all of the trimmings. And if I asked you the same question in a month or two the answer would more than likely be the same. If I asked the question a third time you would wonder what type of idiot I was. “Of course I am having a roast dinner” you would say.You are following a good old fashioned tradition and have become a creature of habit. There is no need to even think about what you eat every Sunday lunchtime.
While traditions might be nice in a family or community setting, they can be less than helpful in the business world. Tradition and habit can cause us to switch off our brains.This becomes the easy option, no need to think critically about what you are doing, no need at all. You will just do as you have always done, and will get the same results!!
If your business is more than 12 months old, it will have traditions or norms and you and your colleagues will have developed habits. These will may not be helping to move your business forward. Ideas, processes, techniques, and past habits will hold you back in today’s competitive (and dangerous) economic climate. Even Worse, your workers may be turning off their minds and failing to create new ideas at the time you need them the most.
Great leaders are advocates for change, they acknowledge the past but they win by adapting to the present and creating for the future. They are open minded and brimming with curiousity.They love to challenge the status quo whilst focusing on what is possible.
Charles Handy gives a good example of this in his book “The Age of Unreason”. Does our NHS have to keep paying consultants higher salaries? Habit says that we pay them more (if we have the money to do so) but critical thinking asks “what is it that consultants want?”. They may want more money but how can they get it? Handy’s suggestion is to let them work less for the NHS so that they can work in private practice (or even play more golf). We can then use the money that we save to employ more junior doctors, spend it on hospital equipment or perhaps training.
With fierce global competition, we must question past habits and focus on inventing and shaping the future. What do we want the future to look like, how can we make it so? The alternative is that the future is merely an extrapolation of the past. It’s time to question, imagine and create. Each one of us has an unbelievable creative capacity which can be used in our jobs on a daily basis if the leaders and managers in our organisations allow it.
So whether you’re passing the gravy at Sunday lunch or at the office, now is a perfect time to break with tradition.