Groundhog’s Day Syndrome
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein
German settlers in Pennsylvania brought with them a superstition that on 2 February (halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox) they were able to predict the length of winter yet to come. A bright day meant cold, wintry weather for another six weeks. A cloudy day meant a less severe few weeks ahead and the winter was ending. This superstition was attached to a tradition of a groundhog emerging from his hole and seeing or not seeing his shadow. Actor Bill Murray solidified the day with his portrayal of a TV weatherman doomed to repeat the same day over and over again in the movie Groundhog Day (1993).
Since the popular movie release many have used the metaphor, “It’s like Groundhog’s Day over and over again” or some variation thereof. Meaning, here we go again, same process with the same results.
Here’s the connection to leadership. Many established works can get stuck in repetitive cycles, processes, traditions, etc. that have been around for a long time. No one ever stops to think about why we do such things, we just do them because we always have done them. They yield predictable outcomes, but we don’t stop to assess whether we could change or discontinue some things. We just keep on doing what we have always done.
Good leaders will have a discerning eye on items in their environment that we assume are good, but are rarely evaluated. Critically evaluating the ‘givens’ are a good way to find new creativity, improvement, and energy for future change. Just doing what we have always done will give us the same outcomes. It’s crazy to think that we will see anything other that what we have seen in the past, no matter how hard or efficient we work.
In their book titled, Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers, Kriegel and Brandt suggest that it is not the expert or the pioneer who usually brings lasting change or innovation. Rather, it is a new leader, often from outside the context, who acts like a beginner. Beginners ask lots of questions and have few assumptions other than they don’t yet understand the context. They are not afraid to question anything.
What things in your leadership world are so entrenched that you haven’t taken a hard look at them in a long time? What assumptions are you making that need to be re-evaluated because it’s been a long time since they were created and times have changed? Have the courage to take the hard look!