April 16, 2013

Consequences of Tradition

Traditions work in two directions.

In sports, you have The Masters, contested last week.  It's "a tradition, unlike any other".  In essence, each year, the tradition feeds off of itself, growing in importance, which further fuels the momentum of the tradition.  This type of tradition works well, as long is it attracts "the best" golfers each and ever year.

Then there are other traditions, like the ones you deal with at work.  Maybe you have a "spring sale", one that goes from April 28 - May 4.  You've done this every year, for thirty years.  In fact, you've done it for so long that your customers don't even care anymore.  That's where you enter the picture ... the plucky, scrappy, hard-working employee who wants to change things.

You ask a simple question.
  • "Could we not have the spring sale next year, and instead try something different?"
You already know what the answer is, but you haven't been clubbed over the head enough to learn to not ask the question.  Here's the answer.
  • "But that's what we've always done.  It's a tradition.  It's part of who we are."
Of course, you know this answer is flimsy.  Terribly flimsy.  It's funny.  When your company has layoffs, nobody suggests the fact that you've worked for the company for eleven years represents "tradition", something that shouldn't be messed with.  When your PC needs to be replaced, nobody suggests that your PC represents "tradition", and shouldn't be replaced.

A few years ago, an Executive told me "... our catalog is our heritage, it is our tradition, it is who we are ... it is not to be messed with".

A tradition must be special ... Thanksgiving, for instance.

A habit is something different.  Habits can be good or bad.  There is no inherent reason to continue a habit.

The next time somebody used the "T" word, perform a means test.
  1. Is the activity special, truly unique, one of the top 2% or 3% of activities the company participates in?
  2. If not, then the activity is not a Tradition, it is a Habit.  Is there a new Habit that has better long-term potential than the existing Habit?
There are consequences for continuing Habits that cloak themselves as Traditions.  Tepid business performance is, of course, the main consequence.

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