I was coming home on the bus recently (MBTA…Boston’s answer to substandard transportation service), when the driver did something that almost all drivers on this route have done from the day I started riding.
She stopped at a railroad crossing.
We do this twice on the trip home…this particular location and another closer to where I live.
But there’s a difference.
The one close to home is an active rail line with trains passing through regularly.
The first one has been inactive for going on15-plus years. Trees are growing between the rails.
But the drivers stop anyway.
Because there still are “railroad crossing” signs there. And no one…MBTA, MBCR (railroad operator), or state…apparently has given any thought to the possibility that the signs…and the required stop-and-start of countless buses daily…should be changed.
In addition to unnecessarily halting traffic on a busy road, the slowing down and speeding up of each bus wastes costly gas, adding to the MBTA’s operating expenses.
I realized, observing this force-of-habit action, how easy it is to accept things as “the way they’ve always been.”
We have a tendency to accept/put up with sometimes annoying things simply because, whatever the action is…no matter how ridiculous or unnecessary it might seem, it has “always been done that way.”
I’m not advocating flag-burning activism. I kind of like a little predictability in my usually chaotic life.
If something strikes you as unusual, or a little voice in your head asks “why are we doing this?”, look to see if it can be changed.
At the very least, speak up and draw attention to the situation.
Complacency breeds stagnation…like an unused piece of equipment sitting out in the yard will start rusting and become unusable.
I once, as an intern working in the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Editorial Branch, questioned the way we were calculating reading levels for proposed training manuals. The existing system was laborious and incredibly time-consuming.
But it had “always been done that way.”
Well, I started tinkering…playing with various ways to derive the numbers we were looking for.
And I noticed a pattern that allowed me to create a formula for calculating them.
And I reduced the time required for this process by roughly two-to-three minutes.
Not a huge change in and of itself. But, taken over the course of a year of editing literally hundreds of manuscripts, the time savings was in the hours.
And the accuracy rate of the calculations rose as well because the process had been simplified…a win-win.
And I got an unexpected but greatly appreciated letter of commendation for my work…as an intern learning the ropes…not as one of the full-time employees who had “always done it that way”!
So, as my friends on “South Park” like to say at the end of nearly every episode, “What we have learned here…” is just because it has “always been done that way” doesn’t mean it always has to be done that way.
Maybe your idea doesn’t actually pan out…doesn’t improve the process in some way. But that is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t at least try it!
Go ahead. Be curious. Look under the hood to see how it works. And suggest changes if you think a change will make a positive difference.
A side, but important, benefit in this is that (as I mentioned in my Army example above) your supervisor or someone higher up in the food chain will notice your proactive effort to improve operations and recognize you for it.
It really is okay to change things!
“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” – Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Serenity Prayer”