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Time to kick the habit?

A typical morning might go like this:

Alarm erupts: 6.12am.

Alarm repelled: 6.12am and 10 seconds.

Radio 4 (Today programme) obliterates the silence: 6.15am. Teeth-brushing commences: 6.17am.

Radio 4 silenced: 6.42am.

Drive to station: 6.45am.

Car parking (hopefully): 6.57am. Train arrives (a conventional uncertainty): 7.05am (Assuming the right kind of rain/snow/leaf is available.)

Standing in train carriage takes place for approximately 45 of the ensuing 55 minutes. Arrive @ London Terminus and head underground. Stand in tube-train carriage for approximately 40 of the ensuing 40 minutes.

Arrive @ workstation.

The regulated pattern associated with the commencement of the working day is, for most of us, a routine that is largely unvarying. Most of us have developed an ability to enter a kind of zen-like state - switching on a personal autopilot that allows us to embrace the monotony - immune to any repetitive stress. Of course, some of us mitigate the numbing effect of the repeated pattern by devoting our time to entertainment… engaging with social media; Keeping tabs on a Netflix boxset; Listening to a compelling podcast. (There are intriguing ENGINE features exploring the value of these forms of digital content: CONTENT IS CURRENCY and THE AGE OF THE PRodcast – available for consideration during your next commute!)

The point of all of the above is that while we have to accept a degree of constriction and conformity in our lives, in order to do what we must… it’s all too easy to assume that sticking to an unvarying set of strictures is to be encouraged - exemplifying order and providing security and purpose.

But is habit as a function of working life genuinely good for us professionally?

When we learn that Mark Zuckerberg has seven sets of identical clothes to wear every week - to save decision-making time - are we impressed? Or do we worry that in surrendering to a life stripped of simple choices, we endanger our capacity to think laterally and insightfully when faced with bigger challenges?

Let’s apply that question to the vitally important need to engage in regular internal communication with our colleagues, in organisations that often operate within process-driven parameters. Does it make sense to view communications as an aspect of working life that must follow an annual pattern akin to the beginning of our working day? Does it make good sense to approach every set of annual communications obligations like a set of clothes that must be tailored to look, feel, sound and fit the same way every year? The January kick-off meeting. The first quarter sales review. The product launch and exhibition. The half-year director’s call-to-action. The final quarter sales review. The end of year reward and recognition event.

Of course, it is essential to keep EVERYONE informed of news, challenges, best practice, innovation, product releases, profit achievements and future plans. And it is important that these essential communications initiatives are delivered in seamlessly professional ways. But if communication activities are intended to inspire and enthuse… if the message is dedicated to innovation and transformation… then the medium and method must reflect the message. Innovation is more than a word. It’s an active component that must influence the communications approach. It is essential to invigorate the messaging content with new and sometimes unexpected methods for engagement and interaction that break the habit of communicating in a standardised way that has gone unchanged for an extended period.

Habit is defined by The American Journal of Psychology as: a more or less ‘fixed’ way of thinking, feeling, acting and willing – acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.

Another way of expressing the above definition in a single word is: Paralysis.

So, to help people kick the habit of thinking, behaving and believing in a ‘fixed’ way… to overcome paralysis in organisations that must champion innovation, lateral thinking and creative problem solving - it’s critically important that all engagement programmes and communications initiatives should be Limited Edition in terms of tone, design, style and content treatment – taking account of the moment and the emotional/intellectual landscape in which the audience finds itself. Being bold and non-conformist is a route to overcoming stasis and the auto-pilot mentality that can generate atrophy in organisations where repeated patterns of engagement go unchallenged.

It’s time to consider communications programmes and campaigns that employ devices such as vlogging, episodic drama, comic book narratives, podcasting, theatrical experience and self-created face-to-face experiences – so that audiences engage and recommit – actively adding their voices and contribution to the conversation and waking up to the inspirational ramifications of kicking long-entrenched habits.

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