In my mind there are few worse things than clinging to a tradition or system without a clear, justifiable purpose. Along the same lines, I’ve always been a huge supporter of finding new and better ways to do things, and I’ve never been content with the words “just because”. From the time I was a child I’ve clung tenaciously to the maxim “Work smarter, not harder”, and this post will endeavor to explore the art of efficiency while identifying the woes of mindless tradition.
I consider myself to be an efficiency expert, and the fact that the last three employers I’ve had have needed to hire two or three people to replace me when I’ve left supports that claim 🙂 So how is it that I am able to be consistently efficient, regardless of what type of work I am doing? Simple…I test and then seek to improve the existing process for every task I’m asked to do. If no process exists, I create one.
Let me give you an example of a common inefficient tradition and its simple solution: QWERTY keyboards.
Did you know that the QWERTY layout was created due to a mechanical deficiency in typewriters? Because typewriters tended to jam when you typed too fast, the inefficient QWERTY layout was created to effectively limit typing speed to non-jamming speeds. The solution? The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. Dvorak is a much more efficient keyboard layout that allows you to easily type over 100 wpm, with some individuals easily exceeding 200 wpm. Efficiency.
Just because things are being done a certain way doesn’t mean that it is the best way to do things, and it is OK to make a change if a change is needed. That said, don’t immediately dismiss the process you are initially handed. Try it first. If after giving the traditional method a shot you think you can improve it, then by all means do so…just don’t ask for permission first.
You see, it’s almost always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Of course, you may be putting your job on the line by testing new methods, but if you succeed you will be hailed as an innovator, and you will find that previously closed doors are now open. If you fail, then you learn from your mistakes and move on.
Another great example of inefficiency and mindless tradition: The 5 day, 40+ hour workweek. I’ve hammered this one to death, and address it in-depth in my Remote Working post, so I won’t go into details here. Sufficeth to say that it is completely and totally unnecessary, is a product of corporate greed and mindless tradition, and that the solution to this global plague is a ROWE (results only work experience).
If you stop to examine your typical workday, and your life in general, you may be surprised at the incredible number of mindless traditions and inefficient tasks that you take part in. For example:
- Saying “Bless You” when someone sneezes – Last I checked, sneezing is caused by sinus irritation, not by spirit possession. I don’t need to be blessed when I sneeze, thank you very much.
- Working 5 Days a Week for 40+ Hours – The vast majority of American’s participate in this madness, and it is totally unnecessary. Work for work’s sake is utter insanity.
- Meetings – I doubt there is any better example of inefficiency than the traditional meeting. No agenda, plenty of wasted time, and nothing that couldn’t have been covered more effectively in an email. Meetings have been around for thousands of years, and are no more useful today than they were then. If you want an example of the drivel that meetings produce, read the Nicene Creed.
- Spring Cleaning – This originated from two things: that a family’s livestock needed to be kept in the house during Winter to protect them from freezing, and the buildup of soot in the house from inefficient chimneys. Sufficeth to say that houses got incredibly dirty. Thus, when it was warm enough to shut off the fireplace and put the animals back outside in the Spring, the house needed a good “Spring Cleaning”.
- Christmas – Once again, I wrote an entire post on this subject here: Christmas is not about Christ. I love the holiday, but I recognize it for what it really is, and not for what people think it is. Many holidays fall into the category of mindless tradition. Feel free to enjoy them, but educate yourself first.
- Shaking Hands – Once again, a tradition that much of the world participates in on a daily basis. This one is incredibly ancient (thousands and thousands of years old), and seems to have originated as a means to identify if someone was a real person or a spirit/devil. Considering the statistics on hand washing after going to the bathroom, this is one tradition that REALLY needs to die.
There are numerous other superstitions and traditions, cultural, linguistic and otherwise, that should no longer exist. Sufficeth to say that we waste a lot of time and effort on useless, worthless things.
If you want to be as efficient as possible, examine everything, and take nothing for granted. The key to efficiency is to get out of your comfort zone, turn off the auto-pilot, and examine your life. Be honest with yourself, and be willing to change what needs changing.
And remember, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission 🙂
I’ll have to consider this one.It never hurts to question the status quoe as it were.One never knows what can be improved on unless they try…
Nice one. I have to agree. Tradition should not be the driver for business behavior; rather, performance data should be. The numbers should speak for themselves.
I do not agree. Ofcourse some traditions are to be abondoned but the basis for abondoning traditions cannot be that we do not understand the “why”.
“To understand our civilisation, one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection — the comparative increase of population and wealth — of those groups that happened to follow them.
The unwitting, reluctant, even painful adoption of these practices kept these groups together, increased their access to valuable information of all sorts, and enabled them to be ‘fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). This process is perhaps the least appreciated facet of human evolution.”
But I agree with you that efficiency is a highly important thing. But there are two ways to efficiency: 1. Design efficient institutions from scratch, or 2. Evaluate existing traditional institutions abd measure their efficiency.
An example is e.g. monogamy. It is an efficient traditional institution. The question is how to preserve it:
Hayek said: “To understand our civilisation, one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection — the comparative increase of population and wealth — of those groups that happened to follow them. The unwitting, reluctant, even painful adoption of these practices kept these groups together, increased their access to valuable information of all sorts, and enabled them to be ‘fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). This process is perhaps the least appreciated facet of human evolution.”
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