Thursday, January 3, 2013

Getting past deja vu

Déja vu by DailyPic
Déja vu, a photo by DailyPic on Flickr.
It seems as though you've been here before.  There's an eerie feeling that you're eating the same thing, sitting in the same room, or hearing your companion talk about a subject that you've heard before - in exactly the same words.

Psychologists are studying the various types of deja vu - there's "already visited" that relates to unfamiliar locations and "already experienced" that relates to things you do.  The theories on the causes of deja vu vary - from temporal lobe problems to wish fulfillment to past life experiences.

Let's talk today, though, a bit less literally about deja vu.  A lot of what you think you're seeing over and over again is the result of habitual behavior.  You are seeing the same results because you're doing the same things.  The reasons behind the habits vary, but unless and until you identify them and make a point to change them, you'll continue to be locked in a cycle of deja vu.  You might not even be aware of some of your habits, because they are so ingrained that you engage in them without conscious thought.

Intentional Acquisition
Some of your routine behaviors were intentionally developed by you because at one time they were identified by you (or by someone else) as the appropriate actions to take.  You brush your teeth, look both ways before crossing the street, and tie your shoes according to an intentionally learned methodology.  Certain habits, though, reach a point of obsolescence.  New technologies, new methods, and new results require that you update your habits.  You may resist attempts to update, partly because the familiar is comfortable and partly because you worked so hard to perfect your current way of doing things that you're a bit concerned about whether you can cut it with the new methods.  Or you forget to incorporate new steps (hello dental floss!) whenever you're not paying full attention to what you're doing.

Unintentional Acquisition
You didn't consciously choose some of your habits.  Some of them were the best of the worst alternatives at one time, and you kept doing them even when more  and better alternatives became available.  Others of them were adaptations to hostile environmental conditions.  Examples of this include over-compliance with authority figures, immediately defensive reactions, or habits of thought regarding people who are different from you in some way.  Even though you didn't necessarily intend to acquire these habits, they have just as much potential for damaging your results as do the behaviors you intentionally incorporated.  And because you didn't necessarily actively choose them they might be harder to notice.

Getting Past Deja Vu
If you want to see something different tomorrow than you have seen today and yesterday, start with the result you're getting now and look upstream for the root causes of the result.  If you can identify a root cause and solve it you can prevent a recurrence.  This diagram is sometimes used to help to analyze root cause in the workplace:

Ultimately you have the most control over your own behavior, so that's a great place to start.  But if you have the opportunity or authority to change or influence procedures, policies, etc. you have an even broader opportunity to effect change.

You don't have to see the same things over and over again.  But unless you take your behavior off of autopilot for a while and switch it to manual - intentionally choosing - you are likely to see the same thing tomorrow that you're seeing today.

Summit partners with leaders who want to effect sustainable change.  This can involve helping companies identify the root causes of less-than-optimal results and implement improvements.  Or it can revolve around building support in people, process, and/or planning for unprecedented outstanding results. 

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