Imagine trying to survive in a room filling with carbon monoxide. Without a CO2 detector to warn of the growing danger, this colorless and odorless gas goes undetected. Starved of oxygen, uncertainly and confusion kick in as discernment diminishes and decisions become more difficult.
It takes no imagination to see the results of the mental version of asphyxia as leaders in Washington choke on ideology and politics as usual. Breathing their own cerebral and verbal exhaust, the Executive and Legislative branches keep saying they want something different while surrounding themselves with the same stagnant ways of governing. Oh, what a breath of fresh air could do for the halls of Congress and the West Wing.
Mental asphyxia is not limited to government as people in companies across the globe risk breathing their own exhaust as well. A common example is employing the same business practices year after year when they are not improving results. Innovation is suffocated right out of the organization as this practice is rationalized with statements like, “We've always done it this way,” and “It’s always worked in the past.”
Service methods must evolve to outpace and outdo your competitors. Not everything that worked when selling last year will work tomorrow. How employees were trained last time people were hired is not always prudent and effective today. Even best practices that get good results need fine-tuning to achieve even better results.
Nicholas, a senior leader at a UK based staffing firm, told me in a recent conversation that his firm had suffered from mental asphyxia for years. “When I listened to your podcast, If It’s Not Broke, Break It, I liked the idea and thought it would only help take what we do well and make it better. Much to my surprise, I discovered that some of our beloved methods were not as effective as we thought. In particular, our hiring and training processes had not evolved with the times. We’d become way too attached to our supposed best practices and weren't paying attention to the reality that they weren't improving our results. ‘Breaking them’ was like a breath of fresh air for the entire organization.”
In addition to the ideas in the aforementioned podcast, process improvement starts with an acknowledgement of inherent impartiality. Simply put, people are biased about their own ideas. They fall in love with them, even when the results aren't as good as they’d like them to be. To break out of this, ask yourself:
1. Am I happy with our results?
2. If not, how long have we been trying to achieve those results in the same or similar ways?
3. What’s the likelihood that we’ll reach our goals if we continue to go at it like that?
Just as Nicholas’ open-minded appraisal demonstrated the problem with how attached he was to the status quo, many people discover that their attachment to current methodology is the problem, not the solution. Breaking out of that is the difference between staying stuck and achieving sustainably better results.
Now, if we could just get leaders in Washington and across the globe to engage in this type of rigorous honesty and self reflection. What a breath of fresh air that would be!