Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. For you gentiles in the audience, this holiday follows the pattern of many Jewish celebrations – someone tried to kill us; divine intervention saved us; let’s eat. In this case, that intervention took the form of making a single day’s supply of oil last eight days following a battle, and the food eaten this holiday is traditionally fried food in honor of the oil. It’s the last part on which I want to focus today’s screed.
No, this isn’t a rant on latkes (fried cakes of potatoes and onions) and besides, it isn’t Foodie Friday. It’s the tradition part and how the customs of the holiday got me thinking about business. As with any holiday, whether a religious holiday or not, there are customs. Foods we make, maybe clothes we wear, etc. Even within your family it may be one family member’s house for a particular celebration that never changes from year to year (think Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, etc.). These are traditions and they give a sense of comfort and continuity. They’re great things but not, in my opinion, in a business setting.
How we get into trouble is by honoring most business traditions. Some of them are fine, but not many. Most of the contexts which prompted the creation of a legacy business process (which is, after all what traditions are) have changed. Those changes have been dramatic, and thinking “that’s how we’ve always done it” can be a death knell. What we need to do is to look back on the tradition and ask “why.” Why was this, at some point, the right answer to a business problem and what can we learn from it to adapt it to current conditions?
I’ll make latkes and light candles and honor the traditions of the holiday this evening. When I go back to work tomorrow, it’s with an open mind and a mental library of traditional business answers from which to build new traditions that suit today’s challenges. You?