The secret of how bad corporate habits start
Have you ever heard the words “this is how we do things around here”? That’s a likely signal that your company has a bad habit.
And have you ever heard someone say “we need a new strategy, let’s start with a benchmarking exercise”, this is another way to get into a bad habit.
I find it fascinating how easily bad habits starts and how easily continue. But how does that happen? There are a number of behavioural-based explanations:
Optimism bias is an old favourite, we tend to play down or ignore the possibility that our strategy or choice of product will not be a success
Perception bias sees managers focusing only on the instances when a strategy/product/decision has been successful rather than the whole set of instances
Time perception, any advantages are more salient because they take place in the short term while the disadvantages only appear in the future
I am going to share a story that resonated with me and led me to become so interested in corporate habits.
The story is about newspapers’ format, they have (for a long time, and still are in some countries) printed on broadsheets which are very difficult to read on a train or bus. They had always been like that size, nobody questioned it and nobody thought of changing it, even if they were not user-friendly at all.
But then in 2003 an English newspaper (The Independent) challenged the maxim of “this is how we do things around here”, and created a newspaper half the size. The circulation of the new size newspapers increased by 20% annually for many years
What is even more amazing is that there was no real reason at all for newspapers to be in such a large size. It was purely for an historical and no longer valid reason: back in 1712 the English government taxed newspapers by the number of pages, so bigger paper meant fewer pages. But then the tax was abolished; the cost of paper was high and large pages remained difficult to handle, so keeping the large and unwieldy pages was a BAD CORPORATE HABIT. Nobody challenged the status quo until The Independent – in financial difficulties – gave it a try.
Over the next week listen out if any of your colleagues say “this is how we do things around here”, or maybe you heard yourself saying it. We sometimes do it without realising.
So what is the secret of how bad corporate bad habits start? No secret, they just do. What is important is to keep questioning them.
Add your story of finding a bad corporate habit in the comments.
Lots more to come on the subject, next week it is the turn of benchmarking and why it can be a bad decision for your business.
Breaking Bad Habits: Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business, by Freek Vermeulen, 14 Nov 2017