Sacred Cow or A Load of Bull? Why It’s In Your Best Interests to Question Everything

What do iTunes, Bitcoin and eBay have in common?

All their founders were prepared to challenge the sacred cows of their respective industries, and the dominant thinking of the time. Behind any revolutionary idea is a courageous woman or man who’s been willing to defy entrenched doctrines in their organisation, industry or society. And behind every industry that’s been turned upside down and inside out, are the people who dared ask,

“Soooo…why do we do it like that?”

When it’s the commonly-held belief that “this (insert whatever untouchable thing springs to mind) is just the way we do it around here”, it takes a lot of guts to question it.

Sacred cows, dominant logic and unchallenged beliefs are alive and thriving in the hallways and boardrooms of most organisations. And the more successful you become, the more likely you’ll see them and the more vigilant you need to be.

You can spot sacred cows a mile off – they’re the thoughts, policies, customs (and even people) that are unreasonably immune from criticism.

They’re the ‘no go’ zones, the ‘daren’t be questioned’ assumptions. The ‘woe betide you if you contest me’ things.

I get that a strong culture is made up of passionate and commonly-held beliefs. But if we fail to question the ideas we hold dear and the assumptions we’ve always made, we can find ourselves, and our team, in a pickle.

Just ask the music executives who believed the CD ruled the music world when iTunes first reared its head.

Rules and beliefs often outlive the purpose for which they were originally intended. And when it comes to leading change, they can be massive roadblocks in the way of transforming a team or company for the better.

As C.K. Prahalad points out in the Harvard Business Review article, Why is it so hard to tackle the obvious, “during a corporate transformation, the forgetting curve is sometimes more important than the learning curve.”

So this week, I’ve got a challenge for you. While you’re standing in line for your latte, ask yourself, “what rule, policy, or way of thinking has been successful in the past, but may be limiting me or my team now?

What are our sacred cows and should we continue to worship them?”

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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