How to Become Remarkable by Violating Rituals
Rituals provide predictability and enable connection. They’re also boring.
I visit our local Starbucks, when I’m in town. There’s a place for me in the conversation pit that consists of business leaders, contractors, and college students. I know most of the people in the circle. More importantly, they know me.
I enter through the side door. The conversation pit is situated at the far end. Jack stands when he sees me. I ignore everyone and walk in his direction. We hug. I quietly whisper in his ear, “I love you Jack.” He’s about 90 and in great health. I anticipate this ritual and miss it when Jack’s not in.
Starbucks in Denver might look familiar, but it doesn’t feel the same as my Starbucks.
Rituals are familiar behaviors we depend on.
Ritual as opportunity
Leaders engage in business rituals every day.
What’s your typical response to an interruption, for example? How might you elevate habitual behaviors to new levels of usefulness?
Rituals do more than enable connection. They establish expectations.
In order to exceed expectations you must violate a ritual.
One morning, after sipping coffee at Starbucks, I invited Jack to breakfast. It was delightful because it went beyond our ritual.
- Pause and take your morning greeting to a new place.
- End a problem-solving conversation with, “So, how are you doing?”
- Hold a monthly one-on-one at a coffee shop, rather than the office.
The beauty and opportunity of ritual is predictability. Predictable conformity enables connection. But predictability is also boring.
Step toward extraordinary interactions by violating rituals.
Rituals become unconscious behaviors. Remarkable leaders challenge unconscious behaviors.
How might rituals serve you and your organization well?
When is violating rituals helpful? Unhelpful?
Dear Dan ,
It’s reminding me of remarkable book of Marcus bunkingham ” first break all the rules” or recent book title of respected Marshall goldsmith” what got you here won’t get you there”
Being predictable is one side but how to break set garbage or rules in subconscious mind , ultimately what’s available in society is being consumed by rules makers and breakers both. So really I would like to understand what needs to be break as per needs or what has to set as per needs of norms ……..
Inertia is the ritual and invested time to break inertia that is innovation or newer area of interest where people love to drag attention on newer well established dimension and this cycle will be repeated on or with regularly modest pace. Fewer always keep making and rest rarest will keep challenge the set values or rituals or behaviour.
Limping leg of leadership is inertia or dusted rituals and invested time with a right thought in a direction to bring right behavioural change is innovation of risk oriented leadership.
Thanks “Crazy.” I find your connection to needs important when violating rituals. Does the violation meet a need and/or come at a situation from positive intention. Just running around violating rituals is more disruptive than helpful.
I also appreciate your inclusion of inertia in the conversation. The down side of stability is inertia. Thanks for adding your insights.
Love you Dan. God bless you.
Thanks for your reply.
This is compelling stuff! Exciting to think of this as a tool to push the limits and cut through noise. Particularly the final sentence regarding remarkable leaders.
Rituals do have a high level of value in the right context, (i.e. a great morning ritual that gets you up and running), but they can also result in some mental atrophy at times, where you don’t consider why you’re spending your time in a certain way.
I think it’s helpful to review your rituals/schedules/habits at intervals to give yourself the opportunity to recognize where you may be slumping, or at least taking a path that is more comfortable than effective.
Now I’m going to have to brainstorm where I can apply this principle: where are their opportunities to make a positive impression by upsetting ritual?
Rituals can be sources of comfort, security, or an indication of success. While I abhor the concept of change for the mere sake of change, I am equally irritated by so many corporate rituals Such rituals do nothing to enhance, develop or provide a company’s product or service. I remember day long meetings when I was a mid-level manager to hash out the company’s “vision, mission and values.” There would be endless dissection of the minutiae of a phrase, but in the meantime, actual work was almost at a standstill. Workers at the ground level did not care one whit about the “vision, mission or values.” Well, they did, but in a more abstract way. They did not care about published paragraph where the use of singular versus plural had been debated for two hours.
Another ritual that irked me was “team-building.” Don’t get me wrong; building cohesive and effective teams are critical to any organization’s success. However, some managers were always tempted to mandate team-building days, regardless of whether or not mid-level management had fires they needed to put out. Then there were the old team-building tropes: forest retreats, trust falls and so many others. By the end of the day/weekend, team members were often ready to strangle each other.
Some rituals can, however, be very valuable. This could be simple, like Donut Wednesdays, informal, like Pub Fridays, or more complex, like my company’s regular “Hack-a-Thons,” where the IT department helps employees, safeguard their electronic devices. The best rituals involve expressions of caring, like giving a cupcake to an employee on their birthday. Above all, rituals have to be respectful, inclusive and something people look forward to. If everyone runs for the washroom or an urgent errand when it is time for the ritual, it is time to retire the ritual.
Rituals can be part of effective change. Encourage employees to suggest new rituals, and do not hesitate to jettison tired ones.