When you log onto the internet, depending on your computer, you will have one of a few options for your internet browser. If you use an Apple Mac, chances are you will have the Safari browser. If you’re using a PC, it’s likely that you will have Internet Explorer.

Is there a fundamental difference between people who use one browser or the other? If not, then why do employees who use Firefox or Google Chrome outperform those who don’t?

In a study cited in Originals, one odd but repeatedly verifiable result got an analyst curious. The people in an organisation who used Firefox or Google Chrome as their browser were achieving higher targets, and staying in the employ of their company longer, than those who didn’t, across a range of companies and industries. The analyst tested a number of parameters to understand this strange finding: Were these users able to surf quicker? Did they get things done more efficiently as a result of their browsers? The answer was no.

Eventually, the analyst discovered the one variable that actually mattered. It was the fact that these browsers were non-standard. They did not come with the computer. The people who used these browsers had made a conscious choice to update and change their browsers.

Why would this matter?

Because it indicated that they were the kind of people who did not accept the way things were. Instead, they were the kind of people who would change and alter a scenario to suit their goals and needs.

The browser was incidental. The mindset – ‘Forget this! I’m changing the situation to what I want!’ – was what mattered.

These people were typically more willing to break rules, use initiative and alter the game in order to get greater results.

The employees who simply accepted the browser that came with the computer, on average, saw the world in more set terms. Rules were rules. That’s the way things have always been done. The situation is what it is and authority and frustration must be patiently born. (Actually, they did not patiently bear out frustrations or authority. They simply achieved less, and left sooner.)

Every environment has default settings, just like the browser on a computer. And every default setting can and should be open to negotiation. If there is a better way, let them change the setting and thereby feel empowered. It’s not only the setting that matters: it’s the tone that is created by the freedom to change the setting. It’s the idea of whispering in their ears, ‘Find a way, even if our systems don’t support it.’

Neat rows and dull minds

Do you have a policy whereby a person may not have a certain colour flower on their desk? Or may not use a non-standard chair? Might I suggest that this desire for standardisation is not only primitive – prioritising pretty lines of desks over effective work – but also counterproductive? Humans are not cogs in a machine. The most effective ones will not sit in neat rows, and there is no genuine moral imperative to do so. A neat line is not a result. Fortunately it’s your rule. You can break it.

Logical doesn’t necessarily mean ‘alphabetised’

The idea of changing default settings applies not only to new employees. Asking long-serving staff to change their own default settings can yield surprising results, too. This happens because what seems logical to the manager might actually be less than optimal for the worker.

Say your employee sits behind a counter and has to access files all day long. As a manager, it might seem logical to you to organise those files in alphabetical order. But ask the employee to change the default setting, and they might point out that the file they need to access most often is ‘A’, which, being alphabetised, is right at the top, on the left-hand side, stacked so high up that they have to use a ladder to get to it every time. They might rearrange the entire filing system according to which files are used most often.

That is not neat. It is not orderly in the traditional sense. But it’s much more efficient.

That’s just a small example.

In Ricardo Semler’s famous production company, chronicled in the book ‘Maverick’ for its disproportionate success, factory-floor workers were encouraged to rearrange entire factories, including the layout of machines and how and when each individual inputted their particular work, and, despite what time-and-motion studies would have you believe, they became much more effective and efficient as a result. Elon Musk’s SpaceX factories follow the same principles, regarding step-by-step assembly as outdated and ridiculous.

Default settings are a managerial imposition upon reality. They are a hypothetical construct, which people at a distance impose upon people who must actually use the construct. They are an attempt at control, when control is unnecessary and counterproductive.

Naturally, it takes great willpower for a manager to let go and allow staff to redesign a work function, or even an entire department. But changing the default settings need not be a radical act of great risk. You can simply run it as an experiment, asking them to list ways in which things might be rearranged or improved. Then implement the good ones.

Or, if you’re feeling brave, do be radical about it. Remove yourself from the premises and let them make the changes, without you hovering about. They will have to live and work with these changes. It will then be in their own interests to iron out imperfections and alter and evolve anything that may not work on the first try. Let them. Remember, it’s not ‘pass or fail’. It’s learn, grow and evolve.

A neat trick

During their early days with your organisation, new employees have not yet become socialised into the rules and norms. Elicit advice from them on what could be different or better, while they can still see it.

What if…?

What if, instead of attempting to impose systems upon reality, you allowed reality to lead the systems by letting your people change the default settings?



Douglas Kruger specialises in dismantling needless rules. A business presenter and author of 5 books with Penguin Random House, including ‘They’re Your Rules, Break Them!’, he speaks locally and internationally on the topic of disruptive innovation and how to reduce your own rules in order to achieve it. Douglas is also a multiple award-winning speaker, who was inducted into the ‘Speakers Hall of Fame’ in 2016. See him in action at www.douglaskruger.co.za.  



A gift for you

Douglas’s articles are always free for use in your magazines, newspapers or e-zines. Many have been previously published in magazines like Entrepreneur or online forums like Bizcommunity.com. They focus on entrepreneurship, public speaking, expert positioning and innovation. Please attribute any articles used, and drop Douglas an email so that he can also publicise your title.