Prominently displayed on the milk in my fridge is an expiration date. Looking around the kitchen, my chicken breasts, Doritos, tomatoes, and eggs also show a date of expiration. Even beer now has as “must be sold by” date of no return. This makes great sense for food and medication — a time whereby their freshness declines beyond the point of utility.
Makes me wonder why more things don’t also have expiration dates.
Corporate policies and procedures, for example, should probably be enacted for a period of time that’s shorter than forever. Well-intentioned processes are established in the context of many external factors and likely make sense when created. However, the world around us is changing at a rate like none other in history. A policy or process that made complete sense in the past may now be irrelevant. Solving a problem is rarely a point of infinite arrival but rather should be viewed as a fixed-length solution to meet the challenges of that day.
When we enact laws at the federal or state level, they are on the books indefinitely. To make a change literally requires an act of Congress. Accordingly, we have laws in our country that were created in a totally different era that may or may not remain appropriate and productive. Thankfully we’ve made many big changes over the years, but there are surely hundreds of laws, codes, and governmental policies that are long overdue for a makeover. There are still silly laws requiring cats to wear bells around their necks and regulations detailing where to tie your horse when arriving at the local saloon. In fact, it’s illegal to sell peanuts in Lee County, Ala., after sundown on Wednesdays. Thank goodness for public safety!
As we craft solutions in our own lives, it’s far more productive to include an expiration date. Recognize up front that the new concept’s shelf life is limited, just like the sour cream in your fridge. Practically speaking, have your new office dress code expire in 12 months. Have the new logistics flow policy on the shop floor terminate after two years. Give the person on your team an 18-month job assignment instead of an indefinite promotion. You can always choose to reaffirm your previous decision and extend the term, but forcing yourself to challenge previously held assumptions on a regular basis will keep your decisions relevant and impactful.
Assuming conclusions will continue to work forever is a dangerous trap. The person who carries an umbrella on a rainy day is wise, while the same person carrying the umbrella the next day in the sun because of routine is a fool. It’s our responsibility to regularly challenge conventional wisdom and avoid falling victim to blindly following the past.
Rigid, unchangeable, immovable constraints give me a headache. Luckily, the Advil in my medicine cabinet has yet to expire.