the traps of fossils and fads

I suspect we’ve all known people who cling to youth long after youth is gone. Those middle agers who wear clothes currently in fashion with college students, hang out in clubs, are inordinately proud of how up to date they are, get their nose pierced with their teenage daughter to show how cool they are, etc. It’s silly and sparks mid-life crisis jokes, but overall tends to be harmless.

I suspect the opposite is actually more dangerous. Those who get stuck in time and fossilize prematurely. They cling to the world that existed when they were coming of age. Anything new after that date is feared, ridiculed, shunned. Every year the world becomes more black/white, right/wrong, good/bad. It’s like their brains crystalize and they are unable or unwilling to adapt past a certain point.

This carries over into the organizational level. There are leaders who jump on every latest trend and fad of the moment only to quickly discard it for the next-and-better trend and fad of the moment. They adopt an approach before it’s proven and then toss it aside before it has a chance to work. And… there are the leaders who believe that whatever worked when they first became a manager still works today and they aren’t about to get suckered into using any of this newfangled stuff.

This isn’t a young vs old, Generation Up and Coming vs Generation Soon to Retire issue. People can be cynical beyond their years or in a desperate short attention span search for new and trending at any age. So can teams, departments, and organizations.  HR is guilty of both, but I suspect that these extremes exist in all fields.

I started off wondering which extreme is worse, but realized that it doesn’t matter. Neither extreme is very useful, helpful, or fun to be around. The bigger question is how do we benefit from the new, evolving, and experimental without needlessly abandoning the approaches that do work (or work well enough for now)? How do we dodge the equally dangerous traps of the latest fads and that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it?

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4 comments

  1. Broc,

    I think a combination of looking at what has worked in the past and what is new is usually a good way to go.

    Perhaps the two can work together. Maybe focusing on what has worked in the past can expose some of the problems with the new ideas. And perhaps the new ideas can expose some of the problems with the old ideas.

    I also think saying the old ideas in a new and better way can be very helpful.

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  2. And it’s all made just that little bit more fun by the high-speed world of technology. We need to constantly adapt and pick & mix the new good stuff while hanging onto the tried and tested and still working.

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    1. Agreed. Some days I get concerned that in our rapid quest forward, we’ll forget the hard earned knowledge of the past. AND that in times of rapid change we’ll cling to the known at the expense of learning and adapting and finding something better.

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