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Honing Habit: Creating a Master Story


This is the first in a series of blogs on what we at Present Tense LLC call a “Master Story”. In this installment, Chris Thunder looks at the role the Master Story in creating mindful habits and routines in business.


Many people disparage habit as this soul-crushing addiction that leads to mindless routines, sapping the marrow of life. But think of how much habit helps you. What would your life be like if you had to think intensively and consciously about each and every task you did, as though it were the first time: waking up, showering, getting dressed, making breakfast, dealing with traffic, and so forth. Even the most intelligent, creative and mindful individual spends a part of each day on autopilot, saving time and energy through habit. These patterns are not designed to constrain us, but to free our minds for more personally prioritized matters.

However, when it comes to business, creating habits is a difficult challenge. We want to apply experience to make everyone more efficient and effective (habits), but we also want to encourage critical thinking so that habits do not devolve into the trap of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” routines.

These habits must first be taught in order for them to become part of the corporate culture and remain useful over time. Someone must train the trainee, someone must lay out the building blocks and apply the knowledge in context and master the fundamentals. Someone must make the process a habit and establish a routine. And then familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes. If the routine is no longer revised for new ideas, stagnation occurs and resistance to new methods and ideas grows. Where is the happy medium after all? How can we build our fundamentals appropriately, establish our habits and our culture, but avoid the risks of routines that breeds stagnation and contempt?

At many levels, the answer is often in perspective. Ideally, each new employee is brought on in the hopes of bringing a fresh perspective to long-standing routines in order to cultivate the ability to make effective decisions. Depending on the industry, most employers seek and require creative critical thinking, not automatons solely doing what they’re told and stamping out identical products. The more the new employee adopts existing routines without question, the more the power of their fresh perspective wanes. In many cases, and in many industries, this is necessary: you wouldn’t want a doctor who didn’t practice every day, for whom something such as diagnosing a broken bone or a heart abnormality was not habit, especially in an emergency situation where information may be limited. In other cases, particularly in those where strategic or traditional creativity is of the essence, fresh perspective is essential to keeping a company competitive and its habits and routines current.

So how can the company best maintain the culture and existing practices while encouraging new perspectives of critical business thinking? One key method is the Master Story. More than a mission statement, but less than a business plan, the Master Story is understood both internally and externally.

The Master Story establishes the tone, the keywords, and the core messages to best reflect the stories and goals of the company and how it presents and projects them. It’s like a box of communication Lego’s just for the company: you can build what’s on the box with a clear set of instructions, or you can free-play, knowing that whatever you make is still consistent with other possible creations from the same pieces. Better writing and regular publishing will help focus and define a company’s Master Story to tell its employees and clients, and establish you as a knowledgeable resource in the market.

Being a creature of habit is not a bad thing, provided those habits are positive ones and ones in which we do not allow ourselves to become trapped. With Master Stories, we can allow for new ideas and perspectives to enter into our lives while still preserving the efficiency of our daily experience.

Chris Thunder is a military public affairs specialist turned helicopter pilot with varied military and civilian experience. A writer for many years, he is now a freelance contributor to Present Tense LLC for sales and internal writing.

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