The idea for this post came to me very early one morning at CrossFit. I was listening to the briefing for an Olympic lifting movement I’d done many times before, a clean, but this time it was different. The coach asked us to approach the barbell ‘like we’d never done a clean before’. At the time, I scoffed. The thing is, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I took it on board and lifted better than I had in a very long time.
Have you ever stopped to think about why it’s always the new person in the team who asks why your processes suck? I mean, they suck. We know they suck. When we first started we thought ‘these processes suck’. We may have even asked the question but, at some point, we just stopped trying to fix the problem and either came up with a workaround or put up with it. What if we stopped for a moment and looked through the eyes of the newbie?
This way of approaching things won’t always work, and needs to be used wisely. I know if I walked into work every day like I had no idea what I was doing, I wouldn’t have a job for much longer. However, if you frame it properly, it has an amazing knack of improving things. Assuming you, at least, know the basic principle behind the task you’re approaching.
An old housemate of mine seemed to see everything in his life this way. I mean, everything. I remember being in the kitchen chopping sweet potato and he asked ‘why are you cutting it that way?!’. He then proceeded with a thirty minute lecture about why I should cut lengthways then sideways, not the other way around. At the time I just wanted him to shut up but, obviously, he was right and to this day I still cut sweet potatoes the way he showed me. I showed him this before posting and he quote ‘optimisation of all, that’s my jam’.
Now, I know I’m not writing anything new. In fact, almost nothing I write is truly original. Cultures all over the world have different ways to describe exactly what I’m talking about. Buddhists refer to it as ‘Shoshin’. Loosely translated it means ‘beginner’s mind’. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness and a lack of preconception when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level.
This way of thinking may not come naturally. The vast majority of us have been taught since primary school that certain topics aren’t up for debate. That if someone of authority is saying it, it’s true. I’m sure you all remember that one kid at school who was frowned upon for asking challenging questions. Funny how you look back and realise they weren’t rebels, they were the truly intelligent ones. Funnier still, is how similar the workplace is to primary school!
Before I get off track talking about everything that’s wrong with the education system, let’s look at some ways of identifying when a process/procedure/system/hierarchy is flawed. For what it’s worth, here are some questions you might ask:
- Does this process annoy me? If so, why?
- Could there be less people involved in making this decision?
- How many people will be impacted by a change to this process?
- Does the current process have a positive impact?
- Is there a chance an outsider could see a flaw in what we’re doing?
- Would I be proud to talk about this outside of my organisation?
With those questions, I’ll leave you to ponder which of those everyday tasks you’re mindlessly undertaking could use improvement. I have to go chop some sweet potatoes.