December 29, 2008

Monday Blues: Why and Why Not?

Posted by Bizaholic | 7:00 AM | with 0 comments »

Sometimes I feel corporate life is more like an auto repairs workshop rather than a state-of-the-art assembly line. We spend an enormous amount of our time in fixing the things and fire fighting instead of creating something new and meaningful that doesn’t require frequent repairs. We are becoming experts in repairs. But we are moving away from innovation and creativity. And all these developments mean spending more and more time and effort on things which should not have got our time and attention, and spending lesser and lesser time on things which should have got our undivided attention.

Why is it happening? It is happening because we are not asking enough WHY and instead are directly moving to HOW.

HOW is the action and WHY is the knowledge. We are moving to action without having complete knowledge. We are, in fact, taking shortcuts. But is it difficult to guess what will happen if we jump to HOW without asking WHY? Just think of a doctor who prescribes medicines without knowing the disease.

The problems keep reoccurring in one form or another with increased frequency like a patient who has been treated wrongly revisits his physician with increased frequency and added complications. And sooner than later the problem becomes incurable. Some typical examples of doing things without asking WHY: Sales is down. Give a scheme (when root cause is mismanagement of field force). Employees are leaving. Increase the salary (when root cause is lack of challenge and motivation among employees). Deadlines are not being met. Send reminders and follow up (when root cause is a corporate culture where people have scant regards for deadlines). Will any of these actions solve the problem? Never, it will keep on reoccurring. This is what I am witnessing day after day.

But the story doesn’t end with not asking ‘why’? There is another side of the coin called ‘why not’. If fewer people ask ‘why’, even fewer say ‘why not’. Saying ‘why not’ is a radical proposition that is the seed of all innovation. But I am astonished to see that majority of people are uncomfortable with the thought of breaking the status quo. The problem is chronic with old folks. They dare not think beyond what is working fine. Their logic says: Why break it if it is working fine? They are reasonable people of the world. George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Remarkable breakthroughs come from a thought process that keeps on saying ‘why not’. The essence is: If it isn’t broke then break it. Often I notice that processes and practices in many organizations are outdated. Small problems have often big roots. But nobody dares to think ‘why not we should overhaul the system’ just because there is a certain comfort level associated with it. There is a deep rooted fear of unknown. So what happens is mainly a little patch up here and a little there and keeping the old thing moving around. But it hardly helps and the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire system is compromised.

Isn’t it time we shun our mental laziness and start exploring things? The spirit of a maverick should be there if there is any progress to be made. Human mind has limitless capacity but it has a serious limitation in the fact that its capacity expands only when thoughts like ‘why not’ stretch it. It cannot work in vacuum. It has to be provoked with a ‘why not’.

Break all the rules. WHY NOT?