When It’s Time For a New Cowpath

Doing new things doesn’t take a long time. What takes a long time is seeing things as they are. Getting ready takes time, not doing new. Awareness of assumptions, your assumptions, others’ assumptions, the company’s – that’s critical path.

An existing design, product, service, or process looks as it does because of assumptions made during long ago for reasons no longer relevant (if they ever were). Design elements blindly carried forward, design approaches deemed gospel, scripted service policies that no longer make sense, awkward process steps proceduralized and rev controlled – all artifacts of old, unchallenged assumptions. And as they grow roots, assumptions blossom into constraints. Fertile design space blocked, new technologies squelched, new approaches laughed out of town – all in the name of constraints founded on wilted assumptions. And the most successful assumptions have the deepest roots and create the deepest grooves of behavior.

Cows do the same thing every day. They wake up at the same time (regardless of daylight savings), get milked at the same time, and walk the same path.  They walk in such a repeatable way, they make cowpaths – neat grooves walked into the landscape – curiously curved paths with pre-made decisions. No cow worth her salt walks outside the  cowpath. No need. Cows like to save their energy for making milk at the expense of making decisions. If it was the right path yesterday, it’s right today.

But how to tell when old assumptions limit more than they guide? How to tell when it’s time to step out of the groove? How to tell a perfectly good cowpath from one that leads to a dry watering hole? When is it time to step back and create new history? Long ago the first cow had to make a choice, and she did. She could have gone any which way, and she did. She made the path we follow today.

With blind acceptance of assumptions, we wither into bankruptcy, and with constant second-guessing we stall progress. We must strike a balance. We must hold healthy respect for what has worked and healthy disrespect for the status-quo. We must use forked-tongue thinking to pull from both ends. In a yin-yang way, we must acknowledge how we got here, and push for new thinking to create the future.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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