How Old Is Your Thinking?

500 Year Old

How old is your thinking? Do you ever ask yourself that question? Likely never. Is the age of your thinking the same as your age? No, definitely not.

If you are like most people, you believe that your thinking is thoroughly modern; that it reflects the time you are living in, from a young age to now. But that is not the case, except for a small portion of your thinking. The vast majority of your thinking is rooted in the recent, and more likely, long ago past.

Think about it. I will use myself as an example. My father was born in 1922. I was greatly influenced by him. His father was born in 1888, and my father was influenced by him. My great grandfather was born in 1851 and he influenced his son and grandson. The same is true for the influence that the maternal line has on its offspring. And on it goes for quite some time into the past. This is one way our thinking is rooted in the past.

Another way is the things that we learn in primary and secondary school, history in particular, and later, literature. Then, in higher education, we learn about our major field of study which is the result of a build-up over time of varied preconceptions and facts, in addition to old stories and myths.

Out thinking is also informed by religion and politics, both being ancient in origin, as well as myths and superstitions, also ancient in origin.

If our major field of study in college happens to be business or economics, then we surely possess thinking that is rooted in the distant past. If we majored in anything else, but entered the workplace, we are greatly influenced by the CEO and their subordinates whose understanding of business and economics has been handed down from one generation of leaders to the next with very little change.

Then, there are ways of thinking about a topic among the intelligentsia, high-status groups, or society that have been around for the last 30-50 years, but are undergoing major and minor general change, perhaps morphing into something new or a reversal to something older or much older.

Old ways of thinking are not necessarily bad — some are, and some are not. Some old ways of thinking help us survive and prosper, while other old ways of thinking restrain us from recognizing the need for change or from making needed change.

A small bit of your thinking, perhaps 20 percent, may be unique to the time you live in or the result of a relatively new field that you might work in such as artificial intelligence. But even the latter is built on several decades of past preconceptions, facts, experience, stories, and myths.

5000 Year Old

Most of your thinking is old thinking, both in personal life and at work. If a business leader has a financial problem whose solution is to lay people off, close plants, and squeeze suppliers, then that line of thinking goes back 500 years or more. Some thinking is much older. If you view workers negatively — do not trust them, view them as expendable, pay them the least you can, demand free overtime (“something for nothing”), and blame them for problems, well, that way of thinking goes back 5000 years or more.

Society accepts old thinking principally because people high in status think that way, and they do so consistently over time. Therefore, old thinking is very influential. And people tend to revere traditions even if they cause harm to them.

Which brings us to the modern forms of progressive management: Scientific Management, Toyota production system, and Lean management. While people low in status tend to view these as great practical innovations, people high in status see these innovations as destroying revered traditions and unnecessary reordering of hierarchies. Those high in status, either individually or as a group, do not question if their thinking is old. It has served them and their like-minded predecessors well in the past, and so the simplistic logic employed is that it will serve them and their like-minded successors well in the future. And they know society accepts that.

How, then, do you make sure that the part of your thinking related to your job is current, whether CEO, salaried professional, or hourly shop or office worker? You can read a book about your archaic preconceptions and the harm that they do in the workplace. That is a good start. But you can go further and make kaizen your method for discovery and for keeping up with the times.


It would also help to keep in mind the wisdom of Taiichi Ohno, the result of decades of daily kaizen at Toyota:

[Tradition] might be acceptable in private life, but in industry, outdated customs must be eliminated. – Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System, p. 107

I am not saying that you have to discard all traditional ideas; I am only saying that you must not accept them as limitations. Most people either do not understand this or refuse to believe it. They are afraid of doing the exact opposite of what their predecessors have done and taught them to do… – Taiichi Ohno, Just-in-Time for Today and Tomorrow, p. 142

Practice kaizen every day, and the most important part of your thinking will be fresh and without limitations, and always alert to outdated traditions.

Old Thinking
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