|The Challenger (Image credit https://blog.historicenvironment.scot)|
We all know Murphy's Law that states that if something can go wrong it will.
After that law became famous, a number of clever people added to "Murphy's Laws" and I've even seen books about Murphy's Laws. It is very true that "You always find something in the last place you look." One that I read that has relevance to this blog post is, "In any accounting problem, the source of the error is the figure that is obviously correct."
Without being aware of it, our lives can be driven along a path where most of the decisions we make and the actions we take follow the line of least resistance. This line is usually bolstered by assumptions that we make, and the greatest assumptions are the ones that appear to us as obvious and self-evident, without any need for reasoning or logic. In other words, the "intuitively obvious".
The intuitively obvious pops up in different areas of our lives without us even noticing: parenting practices, voting choices, business strategy - to name a few.
ParentingI know someone who grew up in a place and time where it was normal and expected for parents to discipline their children with corporal punishment, whether the bare hand, a belt or rod or paddle. Their religious upbringing reinforced this with the proverb, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." It was held intuitively obvious that if children are not physically punished when they do wrong, their character and behaviour development will suffer. It was not really until psychology studies were clearly demonstrating a link between aggression in children and aggressive parenting styles, and between later life behavioral problems and childhood physical discipline, that societies slowly started to question and reject what had been intuitively obvious for generations of parents and disciplinarians.
ElectionsOne of the problems about the intuitively obvious is that it is usually driven by our feelings. We stick with whatever we feel comfortable about and avoid what makes us feel uncomfortable or anxious. For many people this manifests when it is time to vote in an election. A large number of people vote for the same political party all their lives. They started voting that way because that was how their family voted and voting that way became part of their self-image. If you question them, very often you find that they actually know very little about the various party platforms. More often there is merely an enduring belief about one or two particular areas of policy. You hear statements like, "Those guys can't be trusted with the economy," or "Our party policy is based on a good moral compass." If you ask for evidence, whether on the left or right side of the political aisle, it is usually in short supply and you might even get a belligerent, adversarial reply.
Business and ProfessionalOne of the differences between some smaller businesses and most larger business organisations is in the area of business and strategic planning. It does not have to be that way and a number of smaller organisations do engage in periodic strategic planning. Those that do not are at the greatest risk of following along the path of the intuitively obvious. This might work well for a while for any given small business, but the guarantees are no better than for relying on the intuitively obvious for our parenting style or our political decisions. In fact, the prospects are probably worse because, being a small business, you do not have the protection of the herd.
But even many large businesses fall into the trap of the intuitively obvious by presuming you can increase urgently needed profits merely by cutting immediate costs, usually by laying off staff. That is a short term trap. Why? Because it is not sustainable over the long term. You cannot sustain sales and revenue without maintaining quality of products and services. And you cannot maintain a consistent standard of quality without retaining a sufficient number of the right people for the job. W Edwards Deming used to say, "If you want to increase profits then improve quality of products and services."
Perhaps it is time to identify, challenge and probe the 'intuitively obvious' in your own personal and professional life?