Monday, October 17, 2011

Living on Auto-Pilot

We are all creatures of habit. Our habits are time and energy savers and, in general, serve us well. We can engage in activities throughout our day, expending little conscious thought in accomplishing these tasks. Our unconscious, habitual autopilot takes over for us and we are able to think of other things while performing these tasks.

• In the shower, we tend to wash ourselves in the same way, same order of body parts, every time

• We dress by putting our pants on the same way, same leg first

• Ever drive on autopilot, coming back to yourself just as your exit comes up? (or...worse still...just as you pass your exit?)

Much of our everyday lives have been condensed into habitual rituals that save us from having to be consciously aware of each moment needed to complete them. This frees our mind to be present for, and focusing on, different things. The downside, of course, is that we can get locked on autopilot for various activities and we then fail to question the 'why' of the behaviours we engage in. We therefore fail to learn or to grow by attempting to do differently.

In organizations we see this all of the time, processes that are running not because they are efficient but because they reflect 'the way it's always been done'. It is only when someone new enters the picture and challenges the status quo that we begin to question these processes ourselves and search for improvements.
How many of these opportunities do we miss for ourselves, those potential moments of possible growth and improvement simply because we live too much of our lives on auto-pilot? Sometimes the biggest thing holding us back from taking a chance on something is our belief that 'it's not the way things work', or that 'it's not how things are done'. Perhaps it is time for us to challenge some of those assumptions by telling ourselves instead... 'that's how it was but it isn't necessarily how it has to be'.

This point came home to me this weekend when I went to see the movie 'Moneyball' with Brad Pitt.  In this true life story, he plays the Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, who is legendary for having rethought (and revamped) the way that baseball players are selected.  He faced tremendous criticism (perhaps most notably from baseball scouts) who were all quick to tell him that it 'wasn't how it's done'.

Tim Ferriss, in his best selling book The Four Hour Workweek also gained notoriety for completely shifting the assumptions we had about the way we view and structure 'work'.  Tim constantly explores and challenges 'the rules', looking for ways to reorganise, restructure or flat out work around the way things have been done to get more done, in less time.

Take a lesson from Billy Beane or Tim yourself periodically to switching things up a little, trying a new way of doing something. You just might find a better path, a new interest, develop a skill or just streamline a process. Maybe instead of not doing something differently because you’ve always done it a certain way, your new reason for doing different is simply BECAUSE you have always done it a certain way.

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