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

Conventional Foolishness

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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 abacus We 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

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!

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.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenlyUBHfMPraMFBGsDner@ChacfSySoIlXdHyBvBeCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Organizational Change:

Penguins look before they leapLook Before You Leap
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.
Steppingstones in PompeiiChange How You Change
In the past two years, your life has probably changed. Do you commute over the same route you did two years ago? Same transportation? Same job? Same company? Same industry? Change is all around, and you're probably pretty skilled at it. You can become even more skilled if you change how you change.
Winter dawn in BostonOn Beginnings
A new year has begun, and I'm contemplating beginnings. Beginnings can inspire, and sometimes lead to letdown when our hopes or expectations aren't met. How can we handle beginnings more powerfully?
Baron Joseph Lister (1827-1912)Good Change, Bad Change: I
Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
Lake Chaubunagungamaug signDeciding to Change: Trusting
When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?

See also Organizational Change and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Thomas Paine, considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United StatesComing December 12: Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
Shared information bias is widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But over time, it can erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality and the group's perceptions of reality. Available here and by RSS on December 12.
Feeling shameAnd on December 19: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenQRjhgxvoigoeYPsBner@ChacfoAdwxaOIBktmEcboCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.