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“We’ve always done it that way.”

On questioning the status quo

I'm curious by nature. In fact, while working for the Missouri State Highway Department during the summers of my college years, I earned the nickname "How Come". It was so much of my interaction with the crew, the shed foreman, Rolland "Shorty" Duckett, said one day, "Matthew, go bring up the dump truck and DON'T EVEN ASK!" Yep -- he knew me well!

Over the years, I've worked with a number of businesses and launched my query often. It's how I gain information and insight -- information as in feedback to a specific question ("Where do we put our papers to be shred?") but also insight in determining good resources for future queries, i.e., are they credible, consistent, knowledgeable, etc. I am always able to get the information I need and do find many good, credible sources. But the one response too often given to "why do we do it that way?" or "how come that's how it's done?" is, "We've always done it that way."

To respond to any question that way immediately disqualifies you as a credible source in my book. Sure, there are core human existence sort of things that are timeless, but I don't ask how I should treat my neighbor or is it okay to kick the dog. I'm talking about business practices, corporate policies, and organization processes & procedures.

HELLO! It's 2016! We're functioning in a rapidly changing world in the context of a global economy. You shouldn't be able to go back very far and justify still doing most things "that way".

I recently attended a corporate training session where a simple premise was raised: "Whatever enabled you to achieve today's success is no longer sufficient to sustain future success." It was strangely awkward to sit in a roomful of successful intelligent professionals and actually debate the idea! To support an affirmative response to that notion is merely engraining, in the present tense, the notion "we've always done it that way" so we'll keep on doing it! Really?

I'm an apostle of curiosity and hope to spread the word that questioning the status quo is not only a good idea but it’s the only option to insure success in the future.

When was the last time you questioned yourself on skills, knowledge or expertise? How often do you make inquiry at your work about company practices & processes? Is there even a process, or better yet an open environment, that would encourage you to ask "how come?"

If your answer isn't positive to any of those I'd have to ask, "how come?"

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