I’ve met many people and companies who are fuelled by habit. And, like a goldfish trapped inside its own little bowl, they are incapable of seeing this for themselves. That is because their habits have disguised themselves so cunningly they are totally oblivious to its presence.
This is a natural human phenomenon (as David Attenborough would say). Our brains are programmed for survival, which means taking less risks and sticking to what we know. And so it’s the reassuring nature of habit that makes it so attractive, and sticky.
Its power is in its stealth. It flies out of sight, under the radar, and slowly but surely nibbles away at anything and everything that swims against the tide. In this way habit becomes the enemy of difference, originality, creativity, and curiosity. And nobody even knows its happening.
Not only do people not recognise habit, they congregate around and hide in it. Habit attracts followers, and the more followers the stronger the habit. There is, after all, great comfort in tracking the footsteps of those in front of you. That way you don’t have to worry where you’re going, or if you’re on the right track or not.
Also, the more followers the better, because habit give people what they crave most: safety in numbers. Like when you have a disagreement with a work colleague, and she (or he) says, “Well I’ve spoken to a few other members of the team, and they all agree with me”. Ah, you must therefore be right, and I must be wrong. Which also makes me the outsider, since I’m out of step with the majority view. Oh what a terrible feeling. Heck, I better get back in line.
I like to call such companies Country Club places. No one disagrees with anyone else in a substantive way. When asked for an opinion, they’ll check with the boss, swiftly agree, or hide through clichés. Questions are discouraged and giving answers is avoided. No-one contradicts a position already taken. People avoid conflict and accountability by not talking to each other. All because old habits rule supreme.
And then, just in case anyone as much as even thinks of stepping out of line, the Corporate Thought Police are always on hand to maintain law and order. They are the high priests of conventional wisdom and habit. They live to articulate what is and what shall be. Even though their knowledge is meant to fuel the activities of today and tomorrow, they got their knowledge in the past — yesterday. And yet, somehow, this ancient wisdom is way more deeply rooted and valid in the world of habit.
Nothing is more futile and depressing than being in a room with people who are fuelled by habit. People who have had their originality, creativity, and instinct beaten out of them. They look at you with the doleful eyes of an obedient dog.
If you ever find yourself in such a situation, I dare you to speak up, to speak out, and to throw caution to the wind. Sure, you may be mentally labelled by everyone else in the room as “the outsider” — rather be an outsider than a trapped goldfish I say.
About the Author
"I'm The Brand Guy, a bloke who uses brand to help companies and people create the world they want to succeed in. I run a Strategy + Design + Communication company with my Designer mate Nick Beckhurst - called Brandcraft - and I do keynote talks and run workshops on Brand, People and Communication at conferences and seminars. I got my brand expertise working in the ad industry. I believe that brand is a management issue, not a marketing concept, and everything can and must be driven by and aligned to your brand strategy; your business strategy, your products and services, your culture, your people, your marketplace positioning, as well as [not just] your communications. The way I do branding that connects with and engages people is based on positive psychology. My approach is to feed the hungry spirit people have for their lives and their work by using their brand to create meaning, purpose, and destiny. I self-published my positive psychology book in 2008, called Wake Up Tiger. It’s a wake up call for people and workers who are dissatisfied with their lives, often even in the face of their success."