What’s Wrong with the Status Quo?

An oft-heard claim is that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. I disagree. With apologies to the physicists, in my opinion, the most powerful force in the universe is inertia. The tendency to stay on course, regardless of the direction or pace (even if zero), provides comfort and protection. Defenders of the status quo say “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” or “We’re already great!”. Those sentiments reinforce systems and their convoluted and capricious rules, conservative procedures, and complaisant improvement processes.

So, beyond that indictment, what’s wrong with the status quo?

The status quo has winners and losers that have been winners and losers for a long time. Often there’s no logical or defensible reason why certain people should be winners and others losers. It just is, and that situation is one that we shouldn’t accept. I contend that we should seek change that creates more winners and fewer losers. This change will almost necessary make former winners feel like losers even if they aren’t really losing, but that’s OK. Change-competent leaders find strategies to celebrate new winners and affirm previous winners.

The status quo doesn’t account for new realities. The national landscape of higher education is vastly different now than when the status quo was established. Think your institution is different? It isn’t. The student loan crisis, Title IX compliance, cognitive science research on learning, demographic realities of US college attendees, aging infrastructure combined with delayed maintenance, retirement of boomers, attacks on the value of college, and more are issues likely to be impacting your institution. Change-competent leaders continually assess the issues facing their institution and create change that accepts reality on reality’s terms.

The status quo relies on fear and avoidance as key emotional states. People strongly invested in the status quo don’t approach their day with readiness and pleasurable anticipation, don’t apply vision to a question, and don’t perceive challenges as opportunities. The status quo demands protection, and people behave accordingly. The status quo wastes talent. It takes creativity to change what has always been done. Change-competent leaders cultivate colleagues who engage in “what if” and “I trust you” thinking.

Change-competent leaders reject the status quo, not out-of-hand, but because it doesn’t serve the institution and the people of the institution. No human system is perfect. Greatness has no upper bound. Rules, procedures, and processes can make sense and function FOR people, not against them. Develop a new vision of reality, then reject the status quo.

So, I issue a challenge: Identify ten aspects of status quo in your professional life. Choose one that isn’t serving you well, and change it. Earn double points if you successfully get a colleague to join you. Practicing on the small things will grow to opportunities to change the big things.

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