Sacred Cows

Is much of your day spent solving an endless supply of problems? Are you only fighting the symptoms of a deeper problem or the problem itself?

by Pete Ferguson

I like bringing on new people to a project. The fresh perspective can immediately cut through layers of bull carefully built up by an organization.

Recently I was working on a print piece when a fresh set of eyes reviewed it and asked what I was trying to solve and who the target audience was.

I defended the position with gusto. I explained how we had taken the audience into account and that we had vetted our approach through many channels. But as I heard myself vocalizing it all out loud, it started sounding ridiculous to me as well.

I hadn’t questioned the assumption that perhaps no communication was needed at all. I had only focused on the communication itself – the words, length, images, supporting documentation.

When we grasp onto work for work’s sake, it is easy to lose sight of why we are doing something.

Each organization has its sacred cows that survive on “because we’ve always done it that way” and other sources of denial.

Tackling these sacred cows seems easy enough to a new participant. But the gravity of the old ways can be very convincing and if the organization does not welcome change, the new perspectives will soon become jaded and eventually cave in or leave.

There once was a young couple who after buying a house decided they wanted to cook a special dinner for the wife’s grand parents to thank them for all of their advice and assistance to purchase the house and move in.

The wife went to the store butcher and purchased the best cut of roast, returned home and started prepping vegetables to add to the dish. She pulled out a large 9X13 pan, and placed the roast into the large pan, and cut off one end. Her husband entered the room and asked why she had cut the roast. The pan was very large with plenty of room.

The wife looked at him incredulously. She said that it would make the meat taste better. He laughed and argued that having the open end would actually dry out the meat. She argued with more energy that he was wrong and that her recipe was two generations old. Confused, he retreated to another room.

By the time her grandmother arrived, the wife was feeling very upset that her husband had belittled her for cutting the meat. She explained the argument to her grandmother with tears in her eyes.

Her grandmother began to laugh out loud, then quickly apologized, but couldn’t stop laughing. The grandmother explained that the reason she had cut off one end of a roast was because the only pan that could fit into her small oven was too small for a full-sized roast.

The wife’s mother had never asked and always assumed that it was to make the meat taste better and had passed along the tradition to her daughter.

What sacred cows and flawed traditions are you standing on? Time to springboard back into sanity and take the cow out to pasture.

Learn: As you look at problems that have reoccured again and again, are you fighting the symptoms or the actual problem itself?

Act: Figure out how to snuff out the root cause rather than waste time flapping in the wind at the symptoms.

Share: If you can’t figure out the two items above, bring in a fresh set of eyes, hire a consultant or coach, go visit several peers in other departments or companies.

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