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Giving Up Tradition

Updated: Sep 10, 2019


The biggest struggle with implementing major changes successfully, especially in regards to organizational change, is the constant combat with tradition. Tradition runs nearly every aspect of our lives, from the music we listen to and the clothes we wear to how we operate at work and raise our children. "That's how it's always been", "Because I said so", "Deal with it" - These are all common phrases at home, school, and work that are all supported and enforced by tradition. Tradition is everything.

Naturally, when you introduce a completely new structure of working and operating to an organization, the uncertainty it causes can create a lot of stress and fear. This is especially true when implementing something like Holacracy, a tool whose very existence is to uproot and dismantle tradition as an obsolete relic of the past. My job is often to convince people to let go of a lifetime's worth of tradition and make decisions based on what makes sense and is most beneficial, regardless of how it used to be or what is comfortable. I personally hate nearly all traditions, but I realized only a few months ago that I have been allowing a tradition to control my decisions, even when it didn't make sense.

For 5 years, I wore only Zappos shirts - Every. Single. Day. - regardless of temperature, where I was going, or what I had planned for the day. Working outside in the blazing heat for hours? I don't have a Zappos-branded tanktop, so I'd wear a cotton T-shirt and be way too hot. Very cold outside? Few long-sleeved Zappos shirts meant I was cold. Dressing up fancy? You best believe I wore a Zappos T-shirt beneath a button-up. My wife got me some nerdy shirts I loved and what did I say? "These are great, but they aren't Zappos shirts, so I will never wear them." Why did I put myself through all this? Tradition. When I first received a pile of Zappos T-shirts, I told myself I was only going to wear those from then on for all my Zappos days. I was proud to do so and it meant something to me. However, as the years went by and new situations kept coming up, I became increasingly more inconvenienced by this tradition with the only reasoning being, "I can't break my record. This is just what I do. People know me as the guy that only wears Zappos shirts."

I recently intentionally broke tradition and wore a non-Zappos shirt. Did it suck to ruin my long standing record that will likely never be broken? Sure, but the benefits vastly outweigh the loss. I no longer have to worry about counting my new record day after day, and instead I wear whatever I want to. I can finally wear those awesome shirts my wife gifted to me, I can dress for the weather, and I can dress up without having to find a loophole in my outfit.

While minor, I found breaking a tradition to be freeing and ripe with benefits in my happiness and quality of life. Of course, not all traditions are so simple. Some have been ingrained in us since birth and have had a much bigger impact on every aspect of our lives. In the workplace, following tradition is often an implicit requirement for you to keep your job security. Not all traditions are bad, and not all of them are great. The determining factor? If "That's just the way it's always been" is your only justification for why you are making a decision, there is likely a better way. That better way will be uncomfortable and challenging, but the best changes always are.

What tradition would you be willing to give up?


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