Not long ago, I read about a group of Russian immigrants in Los Angeles who have the tradition of celebrating New Year’s Eve on the afternoon of December 30th. A reporter for the Los Angeles Times heard about this and, thinking that there was a story there, went out to interview them.
“Why are you celebrating the new year thirty-six hours before everyone else?” she asked.
One of them, a man in his late sixties, responded, “When we were growing up in the Soviet Union forty years ago, we were very poor, and we found that it was a lot cheaper to get a band on December 30th. That’s how the tradition started.”
The curious thing is that most of these people are now well off — they've prospered in America. They could easily afford lavish entertainment on New Year’s Eve, and yet they still celebrate it on the previous afternoon.
I think we've all experienced this phenomenon many times.
- We make rules based on reasons that make a lot of sense.
- We follow these rules.
- Time passes, and things change.
- The original reasons for the generation of these rules may no longer exist, but because the rules are still in place, we continue to follow them.
Almost every organization I’ve ever worked with — including my own — has some of this mentality of celebrating New Year’s Eve early for an obsolete reason.
I think this story highlights an important aspect of innovation:
it also means escaping from obsolete ones as well.