This Is The Way It’s Always Been Done … are people’s stories of when they wanted to do things differently, not necessarily because they thought there was anything wrong with the way things had always been done, but because they wanted to try new and different ways of doing things, because they believed there are new and different ways of doing things. They believed that the way of always doing things, while good for many people and situations isn’t necessarily good for all people or all situations. They believed in exploring and trying out new ways of doing things, and importantly they believed in choice. They believed in the freedom of choice to give people their best way of doing what they wanted and needed to do.
This Is The Way It’s Always Been Done: A Case Study:
I was in the queue for Richard II tickets at the Barbican London. The show starring David Tennant was completely sold-out, but as with many London theatres they hold back a small number of seats for on the day performances. People join the queue early, in the hope of successfully being able to buy a ticket. It’s actually a really good experience, because you get chatting to people who share an interest with you – anyone who’s willing to get up early to queue for theatre tickets has a love of theatre. Somebody will usually do a coffee run, and if you are successful in getting a ticket, you’ll be on first name terms with people in your row of seats.
Meg, the girl next to me, was Canadian. She was a teacher and had a love of both Shakespeare and David Tenant. My nephew Trevor, who has moved to Canada, had just shared a photo of his six-year old daughter, Jodi, who had received an award at school for reading her first one hundred books. I thought this was a pretty amazing achievement for Jodi, and a great way to encourage children to read. I shared this story and my thinking with Meg.
She had a different take on it. She said yes it’s really encouraging for children who love to learn through reading, but it actually discriminates against children who love to learn in other ways. For example, she said a lot of children in Canada loved the outdoors and loved learning through nature, others loved singing, dancing and music and loved learning through the arts. She said while these were considered to be good, children weren’t recognised and rewarded in the same way for learning through nature and the arts, as they were for learning through reading. She said she felt there was a bias in favour of reading being the best way to learn, and as a result there was more recognition and reward for children who read more. She had broached this with her school board, and she was told: “This is the way it’s always been done. Reading has always been an integral part of a child’s education, and their learning process, it should be recognised and rewarded.” She said her argument wasn’t that it shouldn’t be rewarded, but that other ways of learning should be rewarded in the same way. She really objected to the thinking or reasoning: “This is the way it’s always been done.” But she said her argument fell on deaf ears.
In a previous story: Knowing When To Say No More, I’ve Had Enough, It’s Time To Call It Quits, I shared some of the trials and tribulations Mo experienced as a volunteer at a non-profit organisation from his fellow committee members. The words: “This is the way it’s always been done,” can be added to what Mo had to endure.
Mo felt as a committee they were out of touch with what people attending the events they ran wanted. But when he tried to raise it, he was immediately shot down with the words: “This is the way it’s always been done. People know what to expect and that’s what we give them. There’s nothing wrong with that, it works just fine, people are fine with the way it’s always been done” Mo’s argument wasn’t that there was anything wrong with what they were doing, or that there weren’t people who came because they knew what to expect, and that there were people who were fine with his. His point was that they could offer more of the same for the people who wanted that, and they could also offer something different for people who wanted that.
His belief was that the customer, or the member in this case, will always show you what’s next. Because he felt the committee were out of touch with what many of their members wanted, he began talking directly to the members, simply asking what they would like to see more or less of. He knew he would find the answers this way. The majority of members did want something else, they did want something different. Mo shared the information he’d gathered with the rest of the committee, letting them know that there was more demand for new and different courses than the courses they had created and were offering. He said we’re trying to sell them something, but they want something else, they want something different. He was met with the response: “But that’s not our business goals.” He replied: “But we’re getting lots of enquires, maybe we need to expand our business goals.” The reply he received: “This is the way it’s always been done.” His argument had fallen on deaf ears.
In the book Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin, Martin throws the idea of: “This Is The Way It’s Always Been Done” on its head. He says: “With conventional joke telling, there’s a moment when the comedian delivers their punchline. What bothered me was the nature of the laugh it inspired, a vocal acknowledgement that a joke had been told, like automatic applause at the end of a song. A skilful comedian could coax a laugh with tiny indicators such as a vocal tic or a slight body shift.” He noticed that even with unintelligible punch lines, audiences would laugh at nothing but the cue of a hand slap.”
“These notions stayed with me for months, until they formed an idea that revolutionised my comic direction: What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anti-climax? If I kept denying them the formality of a punchline, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh.”
He tested it out and it worked. People were falling around the place laughing, they were laughing their heads off, they were crying from laughter. Afterwards when these people were asked what was funny, they weren’t able to say exactly what it was, they simply said: “You had to be there.”
Now the punchline hasn’t gone away, and I expect we’ve all laughed at a good punchline. I expect there have also been times when we’ve all used the expression: “You had to be there” when something was really funny but we couldn’t explain exactly what it was.
Words of Wisdom
The great thing about exploring and trying out new ways of doing things, is that it gives us choice. It’s not about the way it’s always been done being wrong, no more than it’s about always doing things differently being right. It’s simply about what’s best for any one of us at any given time.
What’s good for many people and situations, isn’t good for all people or all situations. Freedom of choice gives people their best way of doing what they want and need to do.
Reflect on the following questions through self-feedback to know what’s best for you:
Is this known and proven way the best way for me in this moment and situation?
If yes, great. If no, ask yourself:
What do I need to do differently to find the best way for me in this moment and situation?
Remember whenever you have a question or a problem, you also have the answer or solution within you. Remember also the power of What If? questions. If they can turn comedy on its head, imagine what they can do for you in finding your best way.
Meg and I were both successful in getting a ticket to see Richard II that evening. The history play by William Shakespeare was believed to have been written in approximately 1595. I expect since then it’s been performed on stages throughout the world hundreds or more likely thousands of times. Each and every time I know that every single actor who has played this role will have played it differently, and every single director will have directed it differently. This is because actors and directors will always look for something new to bring to the role, and to the play. They never come to a role or a play thinking this is the way it’s always been done, so this is the only way it can be done. Instead they look for nuances that will allow them to bring something new and different to the role and to the play. That’s not because there was anything wrong with how it was done before, it’s just that they believe that there’s always something new to learn and discover from a personal perspective. This is something that is encouraged within the arts, something that is recognised and rewarded.
Today’s Book of the Blog is: Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
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WorkLife Book Wisdom
The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.
My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife story.