Change Management Training Step 7: Operate at the 4th Level of Change

Defy the Tyranny of Routine

We’re all creatures of habit. Sure, we like the idea of making big improvements, but none of us really likes change. So we plow on, mindlessly doing the same old things in the same old way. It comes natural. Trouble is, our routines close our minds and lives to the breakthroughs that we say we want.

Of course, some of our habits are valuable. Familiar routines can be efficient and economical, freeing us from having to think. So if we get into the habit, for example, of daily exercise, visiting an elderly neighbor, or reading a worthy book that makes us think, we can do ourselves enormous good without having to gear up for it. We don’t waste any time or energy trying to figure out what to do, yet we replenish the wellsprings of our bodies, hearts, and minds.

Sadly, too many of our habits are not of this ilk. Even if the habits themselves apparently do no harm, they confine us in lives that are smaller than they could be.

Habit and routine are the enemies of innovation. They put boundaries around our performance. Like gravity, they keep us on the ground, stifling our imagination and preventing our lives from soaring to new heights.

Our habits are ordinarily quiet. Inconspicuous. But they’re tyrants at heart—insidious bullies—that trap us in our everyday routines. And no tyrant in the whole of history has ever been overcome without defiance. No tyrant has been ousted without a fight. No tyrant has departed due to business as usual.

So if we want to innovate, we have to defy some of our routines. We have to make a conscious effort to think about things differently. Note that I start by saying, “think about things differently,” not “do things differently.” We cannot do things in new, meaningful, more productive ways unless we’ve first thought about things from fresh angles.

Thinking—real thinking, new thinking, innovative thinking— is hard. That’s why we rush around “doing things.” If we’re really busy, we leave ourselves no time to merely think. And make no mistake, thinking can cause us discomfort. Thinking is lonely. Thinking makes us vulnerable—it challenges our sacred cows . . . exposes us to possible embarrassment and ridicule . . . subverts our ego and our emotions. Also, when we think about innovation and change, we’re in danger of interfering with the preferences or habit patterns of our friends, bosses, colleagues, and loved ones. Even worse, we’re in danger of contradicting ourselves, or concluding that we’re on wrong path—maybe just going helterskelter in no particular direction—in our work or our lives.

But if new thinking is hard and wrenching, it’s also the road to freedom and to fulfilling our destiny as human beings. Other animals are totally the prisoners of instinct, of routine, of their genes. For example, a rabbit never stops to ask why she is excavating a burrow. No cat ever queries whether it should chase a mouse. Likewise, we humans are heavily subject to instinct, our genes, and the tyranny of routine. But we can break free.

Genuine, solid, and massive improvement is possible. But to grasp that reality, to make that progress, we have to innovate. To innovate, we have to defy routine. We have to think—anew, ambitiously, and preferably with outrageous demands.

Happily, overcoming the tyranny of routine can itself become commonplace. The first time you defy routine it nearly kills you. The second time, it’s really tough. The third time, it’s merely hard. Some way down the road, it becomes, if not easy, then reasonably comfortable. Your confidence grows, and the tyrant loses a large part of its hold on you.

So start challenging your routines. The next time you run into a brick wall, stop beating your head against it. Pause. Think. Find a new way that goes around the wall, or maybe over it. Look for a new approach that is 10, 16, 20, or 100 times better. Rest assured, the new way is there. It does exist.

The thing is, you’ll never innovate without stopping . . . without thinking . . . without imagination. Because the breakthrough depends on you doing something creative and different.

"If you try to fail and succeed, which have you done?"  —George Carlin