Groundhog Day is a secular holiday celebrated in the United States and Canada on the 2nd day of February. The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since 1886.
According to folklore, the length of the winter season will be determined by the actions of a groundhog that emerges from its burrow on this day. If it is cloudy, the groundhog will boldly venture away from its burrow signifying that winter-like weather will soon end. On the other hand, if it is sunny, the groundhog will see its shadow and fearfully retreat back into the safe routines of its burrow. If this is the case, winter will continue for six more weeks.
In popular culture, Groundhog Day has become synonymous with living through a fearful experience over and over again until one is able to transcend it. In 1993 a film entitled Groundhog Day was released that examines the menace of getting stuck in such a never-ending cycle of routine. Played by Bill Murray, the main character of the movie is a pompous Pittsburgh television weatherman who is forced to relive the 2nd day of February over and over again. There is nothing he can do to change the fact of waking up in the same place, seeing the same people, and going through the same series of events day after day. In the end, Murray joyfully discovers that humility, service and selfless love have the power to release him.
According to Michael Gerber, the “tyranny of the routine” is what enslaves and drags down the spirit of all types of leaders. It refers to the “dull, repetitive work of doing-it, doing-it, doing-it” the way a task has always been pursued in the past (E-Myth Mastery, 2006).
Business owners would do well to guard themselves from the disaffirming tyranny of the routine, or what I refer to as the “groundhog syndrome.” Habits need a higher purpose or they tend to enslave. By focusing on self-improvement and the lifelong process of enhancing our habits towards personal mastery and transformation, leaders can avoid being the victims of such a stagnant robotic outcome.
Unfortunately, from time to time leaders fall into the dangerous grip of routine and feel the loss of joy and control that it engenders. By becoming victims of self-centeredness, ineffective thinking, and unexamined systems, they tragically find themselves like Bill Murray stuck in an endless cycle of reliving the same mistakes day after day, year after year.
One of the ways that business and educational leaders can escape the grip of the groundhog is by developing the posture of modest self-examination. Rather than falling under the dark shadow of the technician’s trap – the constraining borrow of habitually doing and solving every problem by themselves – mature leaders develop robust horizontal company systems that more effectively release the creativity of their employees and staff! Such a leadership culture results in a more organized and smoother running enterprise – one that is based on trust, delegation and not on the tyranny of routines that stem from hierarchically based systems of micro-management.
For some leaders, however, routine is safe, while creativity is untrustworthy and scary! The uncertainty of current economic indicators may encourage many business leaders to mistakenly wish for predictability – a return to bygone Groundhog Days! And, yet, while routine can sometimes be safe and efficient, if it is used as a basis for further improvement, it frequently degenerates into an anodyne culture of lifeless repetition that is void of excitement, joy, and creative passion.
How do business leaders protect their companies from being caught in the grip of the groundhog? In his latest book, Drive, business author Dan Pink provides a number of useful answers. In particular, by profiling the pioneering culture of Atlassian, a most successful Australian software company, Pink details a most valuable groundhog-fighting tactic, namely “FedEx Days.”
A “FedEx Day” is a 24-hour timeframe set aside for employees to develop a working prototype that “scratches an itch” around an area related to their personal or business team operations. The daylong FedEx blitz of creative energy and improvement, however, must be linked to existing or proposed company-specific products. The competition concludes with a show-and-tell demonstration where employees vote for the best idea, solution, or innovation. Along with company-wide recognition and personal bragging rights, the winner receives a trophy and limited edition t-shirt.
Apart from escaping the tyranny of the routine by negating self-defeating groundhog tendencies, the goals of Atlassian’s FedEx Day are to:
- Foster creativity by hiring and releasing the brainpower of intelligent people
- Scratch itches by allowing employees to offer solutions about things that bother them about existing company products and/or systems
- Spike bad proposals by providing arguments against inferior ideas
- Laugh and have fun
- Develop a company culture of safe yet competitive risk-taking
Amazingly, since the release of Drive, dozens of companies and hundreds of small business owners have been motivated to start their own formula of FedEx Days. By developing a culture that allows their employees to step out of their day-to-day mindsets and think creatively, entrepreneurial leaders can be assured that both they and their companies will continue to evolve, innovate, and mature, thereby avoiding the dangerous grip of the groundhog.