In Honor of Groundhog Day
The classic comedy film “Groundhog Day” used a quirky national tradition as the backdrop for an entertaining and profound exploration into human behavior. As Bill Murray’s character finds himself trapped reliving the same day over and over, he arrives at a transformative realization: while he cannot change the circumstances around him, he can change himself—his attitude, his focus, and the intentions that guide his actions. Breaking out of his habitual behavior, he discovers a world far more wonderful than he had ever imagined before.
When was the last time you examined your habits? Which of your patterns of thought and behavior did you deliberately choose, based on wisdom and experience, and which did you unconsciously adopt for lesser reasons—apathy, laziness, selfishness, etc.?
Certain bad habits are easy to identify—the effects of unhealthy eating are usually visible in the mirror or on the bathroom scale. In other cases, bad habits are evident only by their results. When we find ourselves having the same experience over and over, there is often something in our thinking or behavior contributes to create that experience again and again. For example, one Silicon Valley small business owner hired five different people to work at his front desk in a period of less than two years. One employee had misrepresented herself during the interview process. Another was rude to customers. A third had poor attendance. Viewed individually, each unsuccessful hire seemed to be unrelated, a proverbial “bad apple.” When the turnover was viewed collectively, the rapid cycle of hiring, termination/resignation, and re-hiring pointed to chronic problems in recruiting and management. It turned out the business owner paid below-market wages for his industry and for the level of responsibility required by the position, resulting in applications from sub-optimal candidates. Furthermore, due to the nature of his work he was usually not close to the front desk, and was therefore unable to tell whether the new hires were performing their work satisfactorily. After identifying his “bad habits,” he altered his organizational structure and re-assigned duties to more tenured and trusted employees, resulting in workforce stability and revenue growth.
Good Habits as a Barrier to Greatness
It seems counterintuitive—how can good habits be bad? Well, they’re not… but being good is very different from being great. Jim Collins’ classic business book “Good to Great” opens with the quote, “Good is the enemy of great.” What this means is that when we achieve moderate success, we often stop looking for ways to grow and improve. Think of physical fitness. Many people have a favorite workout routine, and that’s what they do—all or most of the time. However fitness experts have recently determined that the most effective workout is one that disrupts the body’s routine, challenging different muscle groups in a non-repetitive way. Therefore, a static exercise routine will produce good, but not great results.
The same is true in life. If you are already enjoying a level of success, are you also seeking opportunities to develop your strengths and expand your knowledge? Or have you settled into a routine that is comfortable and no longer challenges you?
The Challenge of Groundhog Day
This week, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. According to tradition, this means six more weeks of winter weather (although the definition of “winter weather” in the San Francisco Bay Area is up to debate). Will your habitual behavior—both bad and good–continue for a while longer? Or will you take action to challenge your assumptions, search for opportunities to learn, and be open to growth in whatever form it comes?
Menlo Partners encourages you to break with routines and investigate!