Many people find routines irritating because they stifle creativity and create inflexibility, but they can also be time-saving devices that minimize mistakes. For example, doctors use diagnostic routines for their patients, and airline pilots go through checklists prior to takeoff. Edward de Bono explains in Six Action Shoes that “in some ways routines provide freedom. If we had to think about every action we take, then life would be very slow and very complicated. Following a routine actually frees us to attend to matters that really need our attention. . . . Instead of having to analyze each new experience, we simply recognize the situation by using a perceptual pattern.” In other words, routines save us time by allowing us to do by rote those things that simply have to be done.
Problems arise, however, when procedures and policies fail to provide value. Often, procedures once designed to expedite special tasks become ingrained in the company’s operations, remaining in place long after they are needed. The Wall Street Journal reported, for example, that a major blue chip company cut 34 items from the information required to justify an engineering change. The story went on to report that when the engineers investigated who had needed the information, they “couldn’t even find anyone who knew. . . . That’s the crazy thing. Nobody even remembered.”
There is a tendency to ignore programs or procedures that were effective yesterday but that may no longer apply today. In fact, we continually add new procedures but seldom eliminate old ones. The reason we do this is simple: People are rewarded for new programs, not for eliminating old ones, even when they are no longer required or have become burdensome.