Perhaps all of us are caught in the entrapment of the now and present. We are extremely busy at whatever we do. It is another matter that there are blinkers on our eyes and hence we do not recognise that we hardly do anything new each day. Most of us are repeating today, the experience of yesterday. And so on, goes an entire life and a career.
Once bigoted to routine, there is every likelihood that truth will be expensed; for truth lies in natural evolution. William Wordsworth had said: “Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd”. Falling into a groove of ways and customs is inimical to expansion of horizon of thought. Being good at following a strict regimen is no sign of power, proficiency or aptitude. Routine, drill, and a set formula of action are pestilential in nature; they spread and engulf very fast an entire organisation.
Consequent to be traditionalists or say victims to a given groove to act upon, the manager ends up with a tunnel vision. The locomotive is designed, and thank God for it, to run on the laid-out tracks, it cannot alter its journey and choose to be off the rails. Routine does exactly the same to the human mind; we become its captives we begin to operate like locomotives, who must run on tracks laid, which are christened as rules, patterns, process, procedures, etc. The natural ability of the brain to look for alternatives gets choked. The run of the mill responses, a captive mind offers, lacks newness or creativity.
There are many neuro-scientists who study the “human being” and it is their belief that if a person is condemned and restricted to perform the same activity, over and over again, he may end up in not being even a good ant, let alone a good human being.
Routine is the religion of every eco and social system. It is looked upon as an essential ingredient for the success of any business /organisation. It is good to have structures for living a productive life but living for structure is certain death. Disorder may not be good, but it is also true, when chaos sets in, so does order, followed with a complete newness of approach to the problem. Good order is the foundation of all things for it does not insulate the human mind from its creative ability. For a manager who is a nonconformist and an exception to routine, it is both a matter of glory and great pain. To move forward against the resistance of the currents of status quo requires managerial dexterity and immense measure of patience.
“Think out of the box” is now such a clichéd sentence that I believe it has lost relevance to the subject of management. It is a mere provocation, and nothing is meant seriously, when uttered by the supervisor. Instead there must be more focus on cross-functional activities and that can happen when attention is given by the senior management to training for new skills. That’s the way to break the mould of routine’s acceptance and replace it with newer systems. This process is slow. In organisations cultivating attitudes, reactions and commitments is a long-drawn process. It requires managerial patience. It is most unlikely to happen overnight. Patience is a virtue. But patience provoked out of corporate necessity can easily turn to fury. The demand upon team members is to do now and here, there is no waiting time.
Re-designing processes, systems, policies and procedures has been part and parcel of organisational development. And every time these are tested for current validity, it is but obvious that newer ways of doing the same things are researched and results are incorporated. This process goes on. Nothing new. It is part of history of making to endeavor for better.
A creative manager has to be both a lot madder and a lot saner. Dissatisfaction with the present will provoke and permit the ability to do better. Will is no skill. It is in the aberration of routine that progress engenders. It requires tenacity to withstand against the deep-seated view in all businesses that view departure from routine, as corporate heresy. Monotony of work is an enemy of innovation. The rut of following, day in and day out, the same actions renders inactive the thinking part of the human brain; consequently, nothing is challenged; instead conformity becomes order of the day. Men fall into routine when they are tired and slack; it has all the appearance of activity with few of its burdens” (Walter Lippmann). Habits and routine are shackles and fetters for the free mind. Invariably, we make out of our own obstinate standards habits stronger than reason.
Mediocre managers are tireless foes of progress and creativity. They cannot or will not permit the soaring mind to do anything new, but will insist upon convention and rules, immersed in routine. Such managers frighten the mould-breakers with imagined negative fallouts. Routine is the bedrock for encouraging fraud and fraudulent activities. Hidden within the routine of each organisation, function, division or even within individuals are practices that not only encourage but also mask fraudulent activities. Keeping the same person as a “purchase manager” for periods exceeding three years is a clear invitation to fraud to grow and exist. The comfort level falsely achieved by the supervisor does not allow upsetting the cart of routine. The critical functions must strictly be monitored for rotation of staff. Routine has never been the birthplace for fresh and new ideas.
The concept of rotation helps but on a limited basis, especially if it is moving from one monotonous function to another of similar type. In working life, it is also a given fact, that there will be periods, where one has to engage in repetitive activity. The important thing to determine for oneself, if the organisation fails to do so on its own, is to put a definite timeline, to being in a given function. A fixed period for an assignment must be pursued. Failure to do so, makes machines out of humans; while the latter are blessed with capacity to think, create and innovate.
In a New York times article, appeared the following in 1958: “ After you have done a thing the same way, for two years, look over it carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over”. In 1958, there was luxury of time: today we need to alter the period mentioned to days and weeks, to do and must do, in present times. The availment of mandatory leave is a good route, to break monotony. The present or growing myth of indispensability must be nipped in the bud, by forcing workers to go on vacations.
Routine is respected because it saves the uninitiated manager from the painful job of thinking. To move away from routine, the manager is expected to challenge the basic and fundamentals assumptions that lie as a foundation to any given practice; review thinking and seek alternate ways of doing things. This of course requires a complete detachment from personal preferences, biases and prejudices. Great discoveries have happened only when the conventional practices and wisdom were either challenged or ignored. It is always the differences that make a difference.