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No Sacred Cows: They Trample Innovation and Graze Productivity and Profits.

August 6, 2009

Companies today are working in an environment of incredible change. The customer base is shifting, technology is constantly changing, margins are shrinking and competition is stiffer. Whether change is abrupt or gradual, the rules that once worked have become outdated. Ignoring that reality is so devastating. The key to success is change readiness. Forget about re-engineering, downsizing and all those other fast-track panaceas prescribed for corporate ills. The first step to change is to identify and eliminate the “Sacred Cows” – all those hallowed practices, dead ideas, pet projects, outdated policies, unnecessary policies that don’t work anymore.

I can find Sacred Cows everywhere in offices and in the minds of people. Sadly, we continue to worship our sacred cows. Herds of sacred cows grazing on profits and choking off productivity. They are trampling creative and innovative thinking, inhibiting quick response to change and costing money and time. I see people reluctant to come out of their comfort zones- they knew so much about what they knew and they were last to see it differently. This intellectual inertia causes us so many problems in our ability to see things differently as well as our ability to respond the vibrant changes in the market place quickly.

Educated incapacity is an acquired or learned inability to understand or even perceive a problem, much less a solution. The more expert the person is, the less likely that person can see a solution when it is not within the framework he/she taught to think. When a possibility comes up that is ruled out by the accepted framework, an expert is often less likely to see it than an amateur without the confining framework. Everyone suffers from educated incapacity because everyone has a stake in the status quo of his/her discipline. We have a stake in what we know. We are paid for what we know. If we thought it all was going to be made irrelevant tomorrow, we would feel threatened. Everyone can get up to speed on the learning curve, the real problem is that we have trouble getting up to speed to forget. How can we change this? Spotting your sacred cows and rigorously probing into its trajectory makes you challenge those established notions. It immediately opens our minds to alternative ways of thinking that make more sense.

Creating Sacred Cow Free Culture

  • Think about the big, important problems and focus on doing work that matters. Don’t get bogged down in the minute details and the short-term view.
  • Regular reflection and lateral thinking about ideas, solutions and product and evaluate how that fits in with reality.

It’s surprising to notice that how often people miss the critical facts that could make all the difference. We may be so biased to get information only from the people with the same point of view. Start questioning or rigorously probing any preconceived notions or past experiences(educated incapacities) or refusal to confront a problem because they can’ see a solution. New ideas and new thinking start to emerge.

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