The Case For Predictability And Routine (In A Time Of Transformation And Change)
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Clicking away on my keyboard now, I’m reminded of my grade school typing class. Fingers on the home row keys, wrists arched properly, and eyes focused on the instruction sheet hanging next to my monitor. I’d move my fingers slowly- reaching out and up to the W key, then replacing it back safely to the S in the home row. Letter by letter, then quicker, word by word, I’d type the lesson- keeping my chin and eyes up, occasionally sneaking a peek to see where my fingers had cheated, or shifted away from where they were supposed to be.
Nothing could be more predictable or routine than where the keys were, and what movements I needed to make with each of my clumsy adolescent fingers. At that age and being incapable of typing more than 20 words a minute, I found typing to be the most mind-blowingly boring class imaginable. The routine of practicing typing the same word over and over led my mind to wander to new, exciting thoughts and ideas that would take me away from the click-click of the keys.
Today, individuals, organizations, and businesses are experiencing the same thing: they find predictability and routine to be boring. Instead, conversations, headlines, and business plans are focused on innovation, transformation, and change. As businesses and people alike are seeking out the novelty of the next new thing that will enable them to escape from the mundane, and secure recognition and money, should we even care about predictability and routine practice anymore?
The thing is, that only by operating in predictable circumstances, can we really practice our craft, and master the fundamental skills needed in order to grow both individually and as an organization. And, without developing a foundation of fundamental skills through practice and routine, the confidence, trust, and ability to think beyond the status quo, to innovate, is hindered.
Predictability enables us to practice- to go through the same expected steps over and over again, anticipating what will come next, or be expected of us. Consider this situation, for instance. Speaking to audiences and presenting is now one of the most essential skills required across industries. Each presentation brings with it a certain level of predictability. You’ll first struggle to connect your computer to the decades-old projector in the room, you’ll introduce yourself, click through your slides, smiling politely when a mobile phone rings from the audience, and grimacing when it happens a second time. This predictability means that you can practice- you can develop a routine that will enable you to perform better, presentation after presentation. The buzzing phone won’t disrupt your confidence- and while it may be quite a nuisance to remember the right dongles for your computer, you will have learned and come prepared.
Beyond the practice and self-learning that enables each of us to become stronger and more confident individually, predictability also enables stronger collaboration across and within groups. Predictability creates group trust and synergy by eliminating surprises or disparate agendas- it enables a group to not only rally around the same goal, but to share expectations for how to accomplish that goal. In practicing routine, each member of the team can establish, practice, and hone their role, to not only deliver their piece expertly, but to better collaborate with and complement the team holistically.
The steadiness and synchrony of working in predictable circumstances is the foundation required to go beyond the standard, predictable routine. Mastering how to achieve success in predictable circumstances enables us to not only see new opportunities differently, but also to be skilled at taking advantage of them. So often, the most brilliant innovations are those that simply tweaked the normal process or experience in order to make a meaningful improvement. It’s only in mastering the predictable that there can be clarity of how the predictable and expected can be improved.
Consider Apple. The company has long been hailed as the leader in customer experience innovation. But how did that start? With a man in a black turtle neck shirt, delivering a keynote speech. Steve Jobs took the predicable announcement-style presentation routine for the tech industry, and turned it into an experience. From the design of his slides, his provocative, realist content, as well as his focus on creating an experience for a mass audience, he transcended the expectations of the typical product launch announcement- and it shook up the industry. He did it because he knew what the predictable was. He had practiced- and then, he knew how to make it better.
The predictable situations or aspects of our lives may, at times, seem mundane, but it’s only through mastery within predictable circumstances that we are able to -like, say, an expert typist- raise our gaze to look beyond the letters, and onward to the next new idea.