Stop Doing What You Know to Do

Stop Doing What You Know to Do

This is chaos! Frozen snow is shuffling people off sidewalks and into this warm Starbucks on the “high street” of my quaint suburban town. The herds of bankers have hours ago slipped down tracks into New York City tunnels so I’m surprised so many laptop-tapping non-commuters still remain.

I can barely find a quiet gap in which to just … think.

And that, it seems, is the central dilemma in today’s agile, digital, accelerated world.

There have always been three types of activities:

  • Known: Things you repeat because you have done them before, like driving to work, brushing your teeth, or closing your accounting books at the end of the month.
  • Known by others but not you: Things new to you, but that have been done before, like knitting your first sweater, learning to ski, or building your first financial model. Here you are learning what is already known.
  • New: Things new to you and new to others, things that have not yet been “figured out,” like designing a new kind of rocket ship, exploring a new form of art, or making sense of the Trump presidency.

Now slower-moving environments demand more “known” and “known by others but not you” activities. The way you operate your business today is pretty much as you did yesterday. So success requires applying, refining, and sharing best-practices. The third type of activity – the “new” – is more of a luxury to turn to when you have time. On a particularly slow day, for example, you might develop a new computer program or think through a new way to manage your inventory.

Fast-moving environments, however, require doing a lot of “new” things. The external environment shifts, old approaches strain past their limits, and so we are increasingly forced to create, invent, experiment with new things.

The accelerated world’s demand creates competition between old and new, between the desire to do old things with predictable returns on your time and “new” things with unpredictable returns. It is so much easier to drop the “new” and go back to what has been done before. Your environment is engineered to keep you in your cubicle, working down your to-do list, moving to the next step in your process, repeating what works. Such behavior is precisely what success has demanded since the Industrial Revolution.

But now, we are clearly entering a new chapter. Some call it the “4th Industrial Revolution,” others the “Exponential” era or “Accelerated World.” And so we are all getting pulled by two worlds. The old one tells us to repeat. The new one tells us to create.

The cacophony is gone now. The people are still here and their mouths are still moving. I assume sound waves are traveling past my ears but I don’t hear them. I’m in the zone now. I’m in the gap. I am experiencing the thrill of what today’s accelerated world demands of us. You MUST create time to:

  • Stop
  • Step out from the whirlwind of the “known”
  • Create something new

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