Don’t waste time doing things that don’t need to be done.

Imagine for a moment that this was a mantra your organization lived by. What would be possible? How much money would you save? If you spent less time doing things that don’t add value, how much more time could you spend on things that do? Would it be less frustrating or less painful? More productive? More profitable?

What’s stopping you? It’s hardly a new idea. At least someone during your career has probably said something similar to you before. Perhaps you’ve thought about it for a while only to conclude that it’s a nice idea but not something that can compete with the tidal waves of demands that dictate the day-day reality of your working life.

Why is it that good ideas, often-simple concepts based on common sense, don’t become common practice? Why is there such a disconnect? Is it really that difficult to lead a business based on simple but powerful principles that really do work and instead to choose dysfunctional paths that don’t? Evidently it is; we only need look at many of the workplaces we’ve experienced to know how difficult it is. But what still remains unanswered is why it is so difficult to stop doing things that don’t need to be done or which don’t work? Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that failure awaits.

One reason may be a lack of honest introspection. Like those moments when you suspect that someone may be listening to what you’re saying but you know they aren’t hearing you. The person may understand a principle and even go so far as to agree with it, while ironically acting in ways that demonstrate the opposite. The insight alone does not compel action or change in the person’s behavior. It’s as though the insight itself and the actions required to turn an insight into a way of operating exist in completely different levels of consciousness. Perhaps they do.

The lack of consciousness can be problematic for individuals but it can be disastrous for organizations. With individuals, it’s possible to isolate negative phenomena so they can be quarantined but once they enters the veins of the organization’s culture, they can spread exponentially like a virus, infecting everyone they touch. Take the mantra posed in the title of this blog; some organizations may fail to adopt it because it’s become a cultural norm to do just the opposite. Employees come to expect that large portions of their working life will be spent doing things that don’t need to be done, because that’s just the way the organization is. To challenge it is too exhausting, ‘above their pay grade’, or perceived as futile and apathy takes hold. And unintentionally something unacceptable becomes acceptable.

Some cognitive psychologists argue that thoughts shape emotions and feelings, which in turn shape behaviors. Translate that paradigm into an organizational setting: a guiding principle could shape how people feel about their workplace and their value as employees which in turn could shape what they do and how they respond at work. If a CEO makes it an intention, with conviction, to focus the organization’s time only on what needs to be done it could lead to a very different workplace and set of results than that of an organization whose CEO doesn’t.

Strategic plans may take on a different level of critical thinking and analysis. There may be less priorities and initiatives to focus on. Meetings might become more structured and objectives driven…and less frequent! Static reports might be replaced by more dynamic business intelligence. Projects may be run using more agile methodologies. Productivity and efficiency may acquire more currency than seniority and titles. In short, everything could change because of an idea whose time has come.

“One idea lights a thousand candles.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Change starts with good ideas. Change withers when good ideas fail to become conscious. It is a leader’s job to make the organization’s unconscious conscious so that good ideas can survive and take root and to break the patterns that prevent this from being possible.


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