Sep 21, 2022

There is a cautionary tale that has stuck with me over the years. I’ve used it often enough that I should have a picture on my wall. It tells us to question our beliefs.

As I recall it:

A mother was teaching her daughter how to bake the families traditional holiday ham. Mothers passed it to daughters’ generation after generation.

She rubbed the spices into the ham and placed in the baking dish. Before moving it to the oven she sliced off both ends off the ham. Her daughter asked, “Why do you trim off the ends?” Her mother replied “That is how my mother did it, and her mother before her."

The mother wondered why cut off the ends. At the holiday she asked her mother. The grandmother answered, “That is how my mother my mother did it.” At the end of the table, the great grandmother chuckled “I did that because my old oven was too small for a big ham - why do you?”

Are there things in your life that you do because of habit, because they seem to work? Did the people who taught you know why they were doing it?

To start breaking free of this situation you have a few hills to climb:

Cultivate a sense of curiosity. If you get in the habit of always wondering why, you will be able to find these situations earlier.

Accept you are infallible and people will like you anyway. Often you will not be doing something the best way. It is okay. Realizing this and moving forward is a key part. Sometimes you have to get up in front of people and say “I was wrong.” It can be scary to do this at first. Spend a moment considering how you could have seen it differently. That is about learning to make better decisions in the future, not lamenting over the past.

Accept your heroes are infallible. For a long time, I had a notion that if something was in a book it had been vetted by the most stringent authorities. A self-help book was as if it was delivered down the mountain by Moses. It took a lot of experience to realize that authors may not actually always be right.

Don’t ignore, but understand the rules. There are lots of rules-of-thumb out there. They can be very helpful getting started but at some point it is worth considering the “why” behind them. For example, A few friends gave feedback on the design of this blog. There was some consternation over the logo not being in the top left. This almost seemed like a habit from them, it was what you did, and when you did not it felt wrong. When you trace it back the logo goes there because that is where the eye starts on a page. It is the absolute best place to drive brand recognition. I don’t care about brand recognition at all.

I recently went through this with a purchasing process. I had implemented a process that would scale. It identified exactly what models of computers and monitors we purchase. I set it up based on what I had seen over my entire career. Until now I had not thought about it, but now I can see the origins, and why it may not make much sense.

Go back a few decades and equipment acquisition was much different. You could not go to Amazon and most orders happened by catalog. You had to order before you needed an item and there was a small selection. I worked for large companies that required a LOT of equipment. They would save money by negotiating with vendors over quantity. Support was also much different 30 years ago. All hardware had its quirks getting the right drivers could be a nightmare. Standardizing so techs could be familiar with the devices was a necessity.

Fast forward to today working at a startup: We order what we can online as we need it, and Microsoft Windows is much better with pulling in the right drivers. Yet still I was operating under the same beliefs. The rules don’t apply.

What can you re-examine that you do out of habit?