Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 24;   June 11, 2003: Conventional Foolishness

Conventional Foolishness

by

Every specialization has a set of beliefs, often called "conventional wisdom." When these beliefs are so obvious that they're unquestioned and even unnoticed, there's an opportunity to leap ahead of the pack — by questioning the conventional wisdom.

Everything that we consider "conventional wisdom" was once a radical new idea — the gene, monotheism, and relativity, to name a few. Each innovative concept that becomes a piece of the conventional wisdom either displaces, covers over or extends something that was already there. But often, an idea becomes so solidly accepted that nobody ever questions it again. When that happens in management, it creates an opportunity.

To achieve leadership,
question conventional wisdom
When people question what we all accept without question, they sometimes create something new, useful, and even powerful. For instance, many once believed that for an organization to be a leader, it needed a powerful mainframe computer, and a terminal on every desk to connect everyone to it. They also believed that people had to work in the office, not at home.

To achieve leadership, first identify, and then question the conventional wisdom. Here are some examples of conventional wisdom in brainwork. They're from different perspectives, but often their adherents believe them completely. All of them are sometimes true, but all of them are questionable.

  • People work better under pressure
  • With today's technology, there's no advantage to working in the same building (city, country, …)
  • We must lower costs because we can't raise revenue
  • Numeric performance ratings are meaningful
  • Cubicles are cheaper than offices
  • This is a young person's game
  • Only a seasoned veteran can handle this
  • People can't manage others who are more experienced
  • An abacusWe can get this done with 10% fewer people
  • We can save money by keeping our computers one more year
  • We can't afford training
  • Contractors are the cheapest way to go. No, wait, outsourcing is.
  • People are most motivated by money
  • The most qualified person is someone who's done it before
  • Adding features increases market share
  • Charging more decreases unit sales
  • Being first is more important than getting it right
  • We have to because customers are pressing us
  • Competition is the best way to stimulate creativity
  • If we add people (reduce requirements, increase the budget, announce it publicly) they'll finish sooner
  • If we tell them they have to do it, they'll find a way
  • If we tell them we can't do it, we'll be fired
  • Product Development people are clueless about Marketing and Sales
  • Marketing and Sales people are clueless about Product Development
  • HR is just clueless
  • We need the most modern technology

Although these dogma constrain our industries, our companies, and ourselves, the constraints are effective only to the extent that we don't notice the dogma. Becoming aware of the assumptions we make, and questioning them, is the first step along the path to higher performance and achievement. Sometimes. And sometimes not. Go to top Top  Next issue: Demanding Forgiveness  Next Issue

For a careful look at one of the more commonly-invoked "truths" of organizational life, see "Definitions of Insanity," Point Lookout for January 17, 2007.

101 Tips for Managing ChangeIs your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!

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When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts. One approach that works well is the simulation.
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See also Organizational Change and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
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Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

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On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

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