Death of a proverb: If you do what you have always done..

Erwin van der Koogh bio photo By Erwin van der Koogh Comment

You are very lucky if you still get what you had always got.

That might have been true once, but as we explored in an earlier blog post, the 21st century is a different beast. All that change and the speed of which it happens means that your context today might be very different from yesterday, last week, last month and certainly last year. This is true on both a personal level (and what Anthony Robbins was referring to), but even more so for organizations.

There are more than a few companies who kept doing what they had always done and are now regretting that. They were disrupted by innovation. A process described by Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. Just 2 examples:


Most people know that Kodak, the once photography powerhouse, is now fading into irrelevance because it could not keep up with digital photography developments. But that is only half the truth. In 1975 Steven Sasson invented the digital camera at Kodak. A bit primitive, but a full 15 years before the first model from Fuji hit the market.
But executives discontinued the research because they feared it would cut into their analog film business. They focused on doing what they had always done.


One of the best examples however is Blockbuster, the video rental store chain. Not many companies were disrupted twice, certainly not by the same competitor. When Netflix came on the market they offered a subscription mail-order DVDs. And Blockbuster stuck tot their core competency, video rental stores. And they still stuck to what they knew once Netflix moved to streaming on-line. Blockbuster stock has dropped from a $30 high to a current $0.006. A penny stock only if rounded up.

Changing is risky, not changing is riskier

But it is way too easy to say executives at all those companies were stupid, blind or cowardly and that they had it coming to them. They all made very sensible decisions at every step of the way. They were responsible for tens of thousands of people, to their shareholders and had invested huge amounts of the current operation. Anything that is a not a small incremental change is a big risk. What we do forget is that not changing is also extremely risky, but it is a death by a thousand cuts over many years.

Probability Neglect bias

One of the many cognitive biases that we humans have is Probability Neglect bias. We deal with small risks by either completely ignoring them or blowing them way out of proportion. The popular example is flying vs cars. Many people are terrified of flying, while completely ignore the (way higher) risk of injury while driving.
Another example is a current debate in my newly adopted country of Australia, which is mounting a huge operation to kill sharks at popular beaches because of the ‘many’ attacks. Research shows that many more people die from drowning, fishing or diving, but no one wants to do anything about those..

And the same is happening in our organizations. We neglect to see the risk of doing nothing, but do see the risk of changing.

Death of one proverb, rise of another

“If you do what you have always do what you have done, you will get what you will have always gotten” can go on the ‘Busted’ pile together with You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Luckily we have “The only constant is change” left.