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By Design or By Default? How Are You Entering 2021?

By Chuck Cusumano

“It is the way we have always done it.”

I do not know about you, but I certainly hear that all too often—especially when working with businesses and leaders. Alternatively, I will ask something like, “Why do you do it this way?” and the response is always something similar to “I do not know—it was like that when I got here.”

Before I go any further, I hope you will not misinterpret what I am saying. Having repeatable processes, habits, and strategies in our businesses are all key ways to help us grow, be more efficient, and see scalable progress. In business—and in life—our habits or routine processes could ultimately be the reason we find our success. Then again, they could stand in our way and keep us from reaching our potential.

I cannot speak to everyone’s reasons for success, but I do know this—if we do not challenge why we do what we do, then how can we ever really know?

On a phone call the other day, we asked someone, “Where is the silverware drawer in your kitchen? Who decided it was going to specifically go there?” His response was pretty predictable: “I know where it is—but I do not know how we (my spouse, really), decided that it should go there.”

After some investigation, he told us that they had picked the silverware spot because it was where the person who lived in the house before them had chosen. We talked more. He realized that—now that we were really dissecting it—he would probably prefer it in a different spot, perhaps one close to the dishwasher for efficiency’s sake. Here is the thing—he is not alone when it comes to things like this. Many of us are so trained for it to be where it is—without thinking of why or where it might fit better—that there is no way we are going to rearrange our kitchen drawers at this point.

Here is my main question for you—does any of this sound familiar to you?

Have you ever just tried to put your head down, work harder, and hope that, somehow, the result will be different? Goals are wonderful if they are set appropriately, are specific, and are measurable, but the real question of accomplishing those goals lies in this question: What are you going to do that is DIFFERENT to reach this goal?

In other words, what will you change to get the result—the different outcome—that you seek?

Embracing Challenges & Changes: A 2020 Lesson For a Thriving 2021

The last year (I am looking at you, 2020) sort of forced us to challenge the way we did things. It switched up our normal routines and pushed us toward making changes. Though this was undoubtedly challenging (and a hectic year, to boot), this provided many of us with the clarity we needed to better understand the beauty in doing things differently.

Going into 2021, we believe you should continue challenging yourselves, your routines—anything you do that is rote. Habits that have served you well in the past may not apply now—they might, but how will you know if they are still working for you and not against you without challenging them?

If they still work for you—that is great. Keep them, fine-tune them, and make them more effective for you. In many cases, though, you might find that these old habits, processes, systems, strategies, procedures, and policies that got you where you are now are no longer serving you. They might not get you where you want to be.

If you find this to be true, rest easy knowing this is part of the human experience. Most importantly, do not be afraid of change.

It has been said that change is the only real constant—but no matter how much we might say that or know that, many of us still fight change, resisting it the entire way.

Ditch the Rut—Find Your Groove

The definition of a rut is simply a groove that has been overused. Ruts and grooves start out as the same thing—but a rut, which keeps us all in the same place, never moving forward, is sure to keep you stagnant. A groove allows for growth, for change, for a thriving environment.

We all want to be in a groove (or a zone, as it is now commonly called). No one wants to be in a rut.

Avoiding ruts involves constant curiosity—especially about why you do what you do. To be on a continuous journey toward a groove, you need to ask yourself important questions—why do I do this in this particular way? Is there a way of doing it better? Am I avoiding looking for a new way to do this? Why?

If you cannot answer why you do something the way you do it—it is time to challenge it.

With this in mind, we beg the question—why do we not challenge the status quo?

Why do we just keep doing everything the same way we have always done it—even when the process keeps yielding the exact same, unwanted results?

Psychology reveals most of the answer in a succinct, one-word solution: Fear.

Daniella Whyte, a contributor to INC. Magazine, explained it this way in an online article, “People fear being different—especially when there is no precedent; People feel overwhelmed or stressed; People fear a departure from the status quo; People lack trust in the one making changes; change brings a new set of possibilities and problems;” The article even tacks on a common saying to really drive the point home: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

In the end, most of us want to maintain control of our environment, and traditionally, people feel that change diminishes our sense of control. But that is not always true, especially since we do not truly have control over anything in the first place. (Interested in learning more about this? Read our blog on the illusion of control to better understand the idea that you might not have as much control as you think!)

Change can be hard. We know that is undeniable.

But we are a society of consistent and constant change. When we cross paths with companies or leaders that claim to be only invested in traditional practices and believe that nothing has changed in their business over the year, we love to give a few pertinent examples.

  • Smartphones vs. flip phones

  • LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook vs. Yellow Pages

  • Electronic auto deposit vs. Hand-signed live checks

  • Paperless electronic ordering vs goldenrod/pink/white carbon order forms

We are sure you can come up with at least 100 more similar examples of how life and business have both changed instrumentally over the past few years. In fact, there are far more examples of how things have changed over how things have stayed the same. Change is inevitable.

Embrace the change!

Challenge your silverware drawer location. Ask yourself why you do the things you do. Have a reasonable and valid answer for those choices instead of just, “I have always done it this way.” Prove it to yourself—and maybe even your company—that the way you do it is in fact the best way. Challenge everything, be curious about everything, and do not be afraid of changing anything.

A great goal or resolution for 2021 is this: be curious, challenge, investigate, and call out your rote habits and processes. Embrace 2021 with vigor. Be curious. Be optimistic.

Enjoy your life’s journey by DESIGN, not by DEFAULT.

If you are struggling with any of this or are not sure where to start when it comes to intentional change, please drop us a note at We would love to help you, answer your questions, or just hear you out. Happy 2021—remember to embrace a curious life by design!

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