I joined toastmasters recently and last week one of the other club members gave an impassioned speech with her vision of the club’s future. In it, she asked us to challenge the status quo. She asked some other things too, but the one that has been reverberating in my head for the last week is to understand how I go about challenging the status quo.
What is Status Quo?
There are many ways we direct ourselves to maintain the status quo in our language. “We’ve always done it this way”, “Business as usual”, “Don’t rock the boat”, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”. “I’ll take the usual”.
To maintain the status quo is to keep things as they presently are. To keep the current state of affairs.
The status quo is the antithesis to change.
The status quo is habitual.
The easy path, the one of least resistance, is comfortable. It’s predictable and safe. It’s known, travelled before, understood.
Contrast that with the unknown, the unpredictable and the uncertain and we can see why the status quo is so attractive. It’s that cozy blanket sitting in front of the fire drinking a cup of tea. Change on the other hand is dirty, messy, difficult. The status quo sounds pretty darn good.
What’s wrong with the Status Quo?
Why do we need to challenge it? I like it here in front of the fire!
What we don’t hear is that the status quo is the path to stagnation. Nothing great has come from maintaining the status quo. The Go-Along-To-Get-Along crowd won’t be coming up with solutions to the challenges we face today. Businesses that continue to do it the same way will eventually wither and cease to be as the rest of the market adopts new technologies and new methods.
Have you sent or received a fax in the past? Do you still?
How do we challenge the Status Quo?
Knowing what the status quo is and why we want to challenge it is the start.
The status quo thrives when we live without inquiry. When we do not examine the merits of the status quo.
To challenge the status quo, hold it up in public. Shine a light in the dark corners and ask the hard questions. Be open to all answers. Encourage new lines of thinking.
Why do I want to change it? What about the status quo is undesirable? What would be better?
“Why” and “What” questions help define the status quo. They tend to focus on the past and present or are designed to find facts.
- Why is there so much traffic?
- Why don’t I have many close friends?
- What causes El Niño?
- Why do I hate public speaking?
Understanding what the status quo is, it’s possible to paint a picture that changes it. To build a vision that will challenge it.
Ask “How” questions to build your vision
“How” questions look to the future. They describe the path to follow, what actions are needed to change the status quo.
- How do I spend less time in traffic?
- How do I make more close friends?
- How can I use my understanding of El Niño?
- How do I overcome my fear of public speaking?
The final part of the equation is having the courage to change and stand up those that are protecting the status quo. You may even find that the person resisting the most is yourself!
Challenging the status quo is scary.
You may fail.
More than once.
You may also succeed beyond your dreams and create something new that the world has never seen before. Great things come from challenging the status quo.
If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.
Everything you are today, at some time was a challenge to the status quo. When we’re younger, it comes more naturally. We’re wired to explore and test our boundaries. Even from the crib, we’re challenging the status quo of laying on our back. We’re learning to turn over, stand up and finally, to our parents frustration, climbing out of the crib when we’re supposed to be taking a nap.
How many times did you fall down when you were learning to walk?
At some point we learn to fear failure. Status quo becomes more attractive, more comfortable. More powerful.
Creation and learning are challenges to the status quo. Invention, innovation and revolution come from seeing a problem in the present, visualizing a better future, and having the courage to take action to turn that vision into reality.
I challenge you to put the status quo in the spotlight, embrace your failures and create something new. What questions do you need to start asking?
If you’ve followed along closely, you may have noticed this article uses the pattern I just described. I started by describing the status quo, “what” is it? Then I discussed “what” is wrong with the status quo, “Why” do we want to challenge it. Finally I explored “How” we change it and gave some example questions to use to build your vision.
What, Why, How. Then Act!
This simple pattern can help you the next time you want to challenge the status quo.
What do you want? Why do you want it? How will you get it? Then have the courage to fail and ACT!
As Joel A. Baker put it:
Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.