A friend recently shared a story with me. It’s one some of you have probably heard before but it resonates so well with so many of my experiences that I thought it was worth sharing again. It goes like this:
A young girl was learning how to cook and, on this particular day, watched her mother prepare a roast. Her mother seasoned the meat, trimmed the fat, cut off a slice on both ends of the roast, placed it into the roasting pan, and then put the roast into the oven to cook.
The girl asked her mother, “Mommy, why do you cut off slices of the roast before you cook it?” Her mother answered, “I don’t know, honey…that’s the way your grandmother prepared roasts.” The next time the girl saw her grandmother, she asked her about the roast preparation. “I don’t know”, said the grandmother, “that’s the way I learned from my mother.” At Christmas that year, when the girl’s great-grandmother (now 95 years old and still kind, smiling and gentle) was celebrating with the family, the girl asked her why she cuts a slice off each end of the roast before cooking it. “Well, said the great-grandmother, “when I was just starting to cook, I didn’t have a pan big enough for the roasts. So I cut off part of the roast so it would fit in the pan. So, I guess we’ve always done it that way!”
We’ve always done it that way.
How often have we heard those words? What possibilities have been missed because we’ve leaned into our previously “proven”, old and well-practiced ways?
I sometimes hear “we’ve always done it that way” from my clients. Often there are very good reasons for it; after all, many of the things we do over and over again we do because they work well and continue to add value. But once in a while it’s a good idea to challenge that assumption, and when I do, they can’t always explain why things are “done that way.” When invited to explore alternatives or new thinking, though, we can discover alternate ways to achieve what they set out to do – even beyond a well-practiced way.
Perhaps the great-grandmother had only that one pan to use way back then. And, perhaps over the years, the “cut-off-the-ends” procedure for preparing roasts served the family well and provided them with exactly what they set out to achieve – a roast for dinner. Perhaps we have well-developed, well-practiced procedures and processes that serve us well in our work, those that should be preserved over time.
What are we missing though? If a bigger pan was available, how different would the family’s roasting experience be? If we look beyond, “we’ve always done it that way”, what creative, new thinking and possibility might be available to us?