“If it’s good enough for my father and his mother, it’s good enough for me.”
Some of the biggest obstacles to growth are well established mindsets, customs, practices and beliefs within organizations and teams – they are the “sacred cows”.
Sacred cows are everywhere.
Sacred cows are individuals, ideas, ways of thinking or doing things that are immune from being questioned, challenged or criticized, even if they ought to be. They are the prohibited or “keep away” zones in organizations, teams, families and cultures.
There are certain topics and things we just don’t question or talk about. After all, things have always been the way they are, why change them now? Hence the phrase, “If it’s good enough for my grandmother/superior/some expert or authority, it’s good enough for me.” Therefore, they are blindly accepted as ‘normal’ or even good. At least, they are assumed to be good.
The problem is this: if left unchallenged, sacred cows can be obstacles to new discoveries and breakthroughs.
The solution is this: assume less, question more.
Be curious. Ask, “What makes ___________ like that?”
If the answer is along the line, “We don’t know, it has always been like this….” then you know that it’s a sacred cow.
Usually, there are good underlying intentions and values behind these sacred cows. Find out what they are. Respect them. But sacred cows should not be immune to be challenged. Are they still relevant? Are they still effective? What limits have they created?
Besides curiosity, what else does it take to challenge sacred cows?
1) Challenging sacred cows takes guts
You are threading on dangerous territories there, and likely, without the backing of your usual allies. You may open up a can of worms. You may bite into something more than you can chew. It takes lots of guts to challenge preexisting structures, no doubt about it.
2) Challenging sacred cows requires openness
Beside curiosity and guts, the culture of openness is encouraged. Be open to the idea of challenging sacred cows. Be open to the possibilities that better approaches and practices can be discovered.
Most importantly, be open to big, honest conversations to take place regularly – allow hard questions to be asked.
3) Challenging sacred cows requires a commitment to change
When you challenge well established assumptions repeatedly, they may lose stability and their solid foundation. In the face of rigorous testings and compelling evidences, sacred cows are often proved indefensible. Inevitably, the need for change becomes obvious.
Change can be a painful process. It takes courage to challenge and uproot the old ground, but it requires commitment to see through the process of building new foundations.
Without the commitment to the change process, challenging sacred cows for the sake of challenging is simply a process of dismantling systems without putting anything back together. Things may be left worse off than before. The follow-through process is crucial.
Challenging sacred cows begin from one self. Here are a few useful areas to start looking at:
1) Your worldviews
How do you see the world? What assumptions do you make about what’s going on around you? Are they reasonable? When was the last time you challenged your own assumptions?
We create the reality that we live in, moment by moment. We give meaning and values to ideas, objects and individuals. We place more importance of certain things over others, sometimes without good reasons. We construct our own ‘idols’ and sacred cows from within.
Challenging sacred cows begin with examining our own worldviews individually first, and then corporately.
2) Your own strengths and capabilities
When was the last time you revisited your assumptions around what you’re good at? Are your strengths becoming your limits?
The enemy of great is good. It is hard to change what has been proven to work in the past. We don’t commonly discard what’s serving us well, do we?
To achieve new breakthroughs, you have to push past what’s good or even great, to what’s ultimately possible. Past milestones and achievements are temporal stops, not permanent destinations – you don’t have to rest there.
Honor the sacred cows, but don’t be afraid to strip them of their powers over you.
Stop. Take notice of the sacred cows around you. Be aware of those within you. They leave clues of where your next breakthrough is.