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The Way We’ve Always Done It …

Oct 14, 2020

Over the past several years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to manage small departments of an organization and I’ve been tasked with leading an organization.  Obviously, that included managing people along the way.  In each role that I’ve had over the years, I’ve been asked to be a change agent – to shake up the existing culture.  As a result, I came to loathe a particular response to the question “why did you do it this way?”  I wasn’t usually questioning the outcome but was intrigued by the thought process behind their conclusion.  My staff quickly learned that the wrong answer to that question was “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Really?  That’s what you’re coming with?  Now, don’t get me wrong: sometimes the best way forward is based on lessons learned from the past.  But that doesn’t mean that we should thoughtlessly make that our go-to response.  We should always be questioning – always challenging, always seeking a better solution.  Times change.  Technology changes.  New information becomes available. Circumstances vary.  What have we missed, potentially, by just doing the same thing that we’ve always done?  What DON’T I know?

In 1983, Cliff Young was 61-year-old Australian potato farmer who decided to enter a running race that was considered one of the world’s most difficult physical tests: a 544-mile course of rugged Australian Outback that that would take a week to complete.  There weren’t many rules and contestants could eat and sleep as they deemed necessary. The first one to cross the finish line took home $10,000.

Your typical contestant was less than 30 years old and they usually had corporate sponsorships.  Many of them were professional marathoners.  Young was anything but typical.  He had no professional training and certainly had no corporate sponsors.  His training consisted of chasing livestock around the farm – in long pants and galoshes.

At the starting line, Young was mocked by his fellow runners and the media.  “How dare he!” some scoffed.  Others worried about his ability to compete given his age and lack of training.  They mocked his looks.  You see, the old farmer was still wearing boots and long pants – though he’d cut holes in them for ventilation. As the gun went off, the ridiculing grew even stronger as Young didn’t run like the others.  He “shuffled.”

All of the professional athletes knew that it took right around seven days to finish the race if you wanted to compete for the top spot. In order to hit that mark, the contestants would have to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours.

Young didn’t know that.

All he knew is that there was a finish line hundreds of miles ahead of him.  So, he kept shuffling.  All night long.  He covered 200 miles in the first 48 hours.  Each night he inched closer to the head of the pack.  You can see where this is going right? The old “tortoise and the hare” scenario played out.  One night he had surpassed each of the professionally trained athletes and ended up finishing a full 10 hours ahead of the next competitor!

Today, the “Young-shuffle” has been adopted by ultra-marathon runners because it is considered more energy-efficient. At least three champions of the race have used the shuffle to win it.

As Young’s story demonstrates, sometimes it isn’t what we know, it’s what we don’t know that can shape our decision-making process.  He didn’t know how to run like the others – he shuffled.

What is it that you think you know or easily rely on past experiences without considering an alternative to get the job done? A better question is: “what don’t I know that can help me better understand the best way to get there?”

Just doing it the way that you’ve always done it – whatever IT is – may not be the best approach.  How can you apply the “Young shuffle” to your work life – or perhaps even your personal life?

Michigan Legislative Consultants is a bipartisan lobbying firm based in Lansing, Michigan. Our team of lobbyists and procurement specialists provide a wide range of services for some of the most respected companies in America. For more on MLC, visit www.mlcmi.com or connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.