Finding Fault in ‘Default’

The 3 keys to constant improvement

By Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher  |   Jan 4, 2019

In his book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Wharton Business School Professor Adam Grant shares the results of a research project that studied what factors encourage customer service agents to stay in their jobs longer than others. 30,000 employees were surveyed regarding what factors made them happier at work. While sorting through the data researchers looked at what internet browsers these employees used to apply for their current positions. The findings revealed that employees who used Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox stayed with their employers 15% longer than other employees.

Initially, these findings did not seem to be related, but further investigation showed these same employees had fewer absences from work and had higher job performance. Researchers hypothesized these employees were more adept at their jobs, but found they were no more tech-savvy or efficient than their co-workers.

What they discovered was browser selection demonstrated initiative: These high performing employees were more likely to seek out better ways to accomplish tasks. They found a superior internet browser and then took the steps to install it on their computers. Other employees, those who used default browsers (Explorer and Safari), did not perform as well and did not take the initiative to look for better options. To quote Dr. Grant, “The customer service agents who accepted the defaults of Internet Explorer and Safari approached their job in the same way… they saw their job descriptions as fixed.”

In what ways do we see our job descriptions as fixed? How can we demonstrate initiative and find methods to optimize our work experiences?

In Search of Better

Does this mean that using Chrome and Firefox will make us better at our jobs? Not necessarily. Safari and Explorer come automatically installed on Macs and PCs, respectively. They are the default. Those who want something different must ask, “is there is a better option out there?” These individuals do not accept the default option. They look for better alternatives and are willing to take additional steps to assure they are working optimally.

We see default options in our everyday lives, and not only on our computers. The food we eat, the route we travel to work, and other repetitive activities all entail potential default options. Have you ever heard something like the following?

Question: “Why do you [fill in the blank] this way?”

Response: “Because I have always done it this way.”

Beware of this response! It’s a classic default trap.

Dr. Grant argues, “We live in an Internet Explorer world.” What he means is most of us settle for default options. Each of us must find the “fault” in default and become more original at work and at home. Following are some suggestions.

Question: The beginning step to start your non-default method of thinking is to question why things are done a certain way. This takes practice. Start by examining the way things are done at work and in your private life and question the reasoning behind the methods. Become dissatisfied by the status quo. This can include the default font on your computer or the soup of the day.

Explore: Many of us know people who are great customizers. They modify their vehicles, firearms, and even houses. Although this is useful for recreation, our goal should be to tailor the routine things we do every day to help us be more efficient. Finding the best way to accomplish regular, everyday tasks is essential. You don’t have to be a power user to figure out the best way to operate your computer or how to prepare dinner. Examine the tasks you do daily. Is there a different/better way to accomplish this task? If so, learn how to customize and get to work. This will increase your effectiveness and save a lot of time in the long run.

Educate Yourself: To fully learn how to customize your experiences, you should educate yourself about the things you use every day. For example, let’s return to your internet browser, which has a settings option you can access. Once there you will find that you can customize your browser theme, font size, home page (or pages) and other advanced settings. There are also add-ins that can make your browsing experience more effective.

Fleeing the default does not end with computers. Ask yourself, “What’s for dinner tonight?” If you usually ask this question every night right before dinner time, maybe you’re living in the default zone. Planning menus and shopping for ingredients ahead of time will help you be proactive about nutrition and keep you in control of your schedule.

Conclusion

Remember to question, explore, and educate yourself toward a more customized experience at work and at home. The opportunities are endless.

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Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher

Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher

Jesse Williams is the Captain of the New Mexico State Police Training & Recruiting Bureau in Santa Fe, N.M. He is a graduate of New Mexico State University and earned Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice and Public Administration. He enjoys applying best practices regarding personal wellness and development. He and his wife, Anika, have been married for 14 years and are the proud parents of five children. Randy Larcher is a Captain with the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau. He graduated from New Mexico State University in 2005 with a degree in history. He is a student of ethics, productivity, and leadership. He lives in Las Cruces, N.M., with his wife April and their four children.
Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher

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