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The Status Quo: Enemy of Progress

The status quo. It's where we are today. It's a snapshot of how far we've made it. It's a culmination of so many people's ideas and hard fought battles. The status quo isn’t always better than it used to be, and nowhere near where it could be. I believe the status quo is to be understood, respected and then built upon. Social norms are established by people, laws are created by people, situations and facts change, circumstances change and people make mistakes. So though you should respect the rules of the game that result from those social norms, laws and situations, you should always be considering, "is the game changing".

Some of this biased belief, that we should challenge the status quo, comes from my non-conformist roots. I recently took an enneagram personality test and it confirmed much of what I already knew. As an 8 wing 7 I struggle with authority and the lack of autonomy, but my idealistic ways help me to embrace change. As long as I can remember, I've questioned everything. Even if it’s questioning what I hold to be true and leads me to approaching life differently. I feel I'm almost in a constant state of "what if…" or "why don't we…". I take everything as a work in progress and in the proper dose, this can help you lead your career as well as everyone around you. Which is exactly why I don't shy from or fear deviating from the status quo.

Being overly resistant to change then, can give you the mark of overly embracing the status quo. One area I see resistance to change, with even the most well intended leader, is when a leader has moved on to another role or responsibility. All of the change they made in their previous role that drove the team, group or organization to where they are now is not seen as the great leaps and bounds that it was chalked up to be. For the incoming leader, all that you created and changed is the now the status quo. A blank canvas of opportunity. It's usually during these role transitions where I see resistance to change from the outgoing leader and the team.

Another instance of people avoiding change is when people mask their love for the status quo with their showmanship of a noble quest for progress. They may seek out and sift through feedback, but are using it as a tool to pass over distention and find compliance. Disguising a self created echo chamber as feedback surveys or focus groups. Trying to reinforce the status quo with the false narrative that progress is a destination and not a journey. "We made it, we're here". Those words should always set off bells and whistles that you have found someone whose value is strongly tied to, and therefore opposed to changing, the status quo.

Progress however, is not reserved for deep thinkers and idea people. Just because you're mind isn't working a mile a minute on a half baked idea to change the way we operate as a society, doesn't mean you can't push for progress. Also, you don't need to be a non-conformist to find the areas of improvement in your day to day. I'm sure you have at least one or two people in your team that are always coming up with ideas, or always asking you questions about why you're doing something the way you're doing it. You should embrace that and treat it as feedback you can grow from! The next time they ask you why something is done the way it is, answer them and follow it up with "how do you feel we could do it better?". You're empowering them as a leader, lighting that spark of creativity and inviting them to push for progress.

My final tip for pushing past the status quo without your own earth shattering plans is to poke at the comfort zone of those around you. The boundaries of a comfort zone are often fortified with difficult questions people have been avoiding or don't want to answer. They've just accepted them as truths because that's what the status quo demands of them and either by choice or ignorance they comply. Those questions will more than likely be difficult ones and require you to embrace the awkward, but on the other side of awkward is much needed progress. In light of all of this,

I ask two things of you this week

  1. Think hard about your last good idea you had. Maybe you pursued it to a dead end, or maybe it never made it past a conversation with your shampoo bottle. Ask yourself what "rule" or "social norm" is deeming it invalid, and start digging into the validity of that rule. Is it a byproduct of the current status quo, and thus have the potential to change? If so, get after it!

  2. Treat receiving feedback as a skill and listen to your team, friends and anyone willing to share ideas. Is there anything you're hearing that you feel is "right" but it's being held up by the status quo? If so there is at least two of you now. Team up, and get after it!

I love diversity of thought and experience. This belief is why you don't see me squabble over generational differences. I don't look down on Gen-Z for being new to the workforce, I look up to them for a fresh take on our status quo. I don't look down on Gen-X or Baby Boomers for judging my drive for collaboration or for seeing me as lazy when I look for ways to automate everything. I look up to them for keeping me honest and making me prove my push on the status quo is progress. I'm not out here pushing for a perpetual state of change for change sake. I'm just not willing to settle for less than our best. Not my best, or your best, our collective best and our collective best is not the current status quo.

Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.

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