But That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It

SASS (self-absorbed self-satisfaction), is a philosophy.

It’s not to be confused with its homonymic variant: SaaS (software as a service). SASS is the twin sibling of stubbornness and the bane of creative productivity. The entire philosophy can be stated in one simple syllogistic sentence: “We do it this way because this is the way we do it.”

Unlike other philosophies, SASS requires no founding figures, no manifestos to serve it, no books to be written about. College courses need not be dedicated to it. It’s entirely self-contained and utterly self-limiting. There is nothing more to it because its adherents won’t allow anything else. And those adherents are perfectly happy about all of that, thank you very much.

The source of this philosophy is as simple as its expression and as dangerous as its manifestation.

It’s simple because we have just two fundamental motivators: hope and fear. SASS might appear to derive from hope. Its devotees might seem to possess the self-confidence to do as they see fit to do without doubt, hesitation, second-guessing, or the need to entertain options or other points of view. Look again.

Would a hopeful person refute differing perspectives? Would hope compel one to disdain alternative activities or methods? Could hope engender close-mindedness? Could hope explain the anger that typically ensues from challenging practitioners of SASS to try something new or different — or, more illustratively, to trustfully delegate the authority to try something new or different? No. And what do SASS adherents fear?

  1. Change. Most people fear change. The devil you know beats the devil you don’t know in every race. And one of the most perverse aspects of human psychology is preferring the known to the unknown, even if the known is miserable.
  2. Being exposed. Most people think they’re getting away with something or just getting by. Change the status quo, and the new light might show a chink in the armor or a lack of performance. Result? We’ll stay right here and keep doing it this way.
  3. Being bettered. If what we do is the only thing we do and the only way we do it, we resist the idea that we might be able to do it better. We put up the shields, retract into the shell, and hope no one does it better than we do.

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”

Charles C. Noble

Until we break our habits — or permit something different to be done on our behalf — how do we know what will happen? Why do we think we can or should know? Why are we so sure it won’t be positive? Why don’t we imagine it’ll exceed our craziest expectations, rather than assuming it’ll crash and burn?

It’s not about certainty, it’s about hope. And adherents to SASS fail for fear of changing.

A seat in the proverbial comfort zone is never worth the price.

Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brienhttps://obriencg.com/
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. During times of change, some employees may feel the need to stick to the past because it is more secure, known and predictable. If what they have done in the past has worked well for them, they could resist change for fear that it will change in the future.
    On the other hand, how can you blame them?
    What is known is definitely an anchor, a safe haven for man, whatever the area in which it is located. That’s why listening and dialogue become fundamental in this area. In such situations, periodic meetings, comparisons and communication about change are very useful.

  2. Wonderful, Mark, as usual, and the perfect time of year for such a provocative article. After reading, I am happy to say that I am not I’m used with SASS. Not the kind you’re referencing, anyway! Thank you for sharing Mark’s thought-provoking piece, Dennis!

  3. Spot on, my friend… just the right launching pad for the weekend that is commencing – thank you for another nugget of thought, SASS is what gives us those with “experience” the ability to shoot down anything that isn’t tried and true, and allows new and potentially wonderful ideas to die on the vine or be enthusiastically strangled for the benefit of everyone’s morale. Don’t you just love it when someone starts a sentence with “You know, years ago we used to…” and they continue to drone on about how hard things used to be, and how we are all spoiled by how good we have it now and why would we possibly ever want to do it differently? As the life and will to live is sucked out of the room. And everyone feels happy and relieved that the status quo lives to fight another day. The last one left can turn out lights.

    And you can have empathy for those who resist change, as they just may not have the stomach or fortitude to learn one more thing, as they balance that with the 83 other things that they are balancing on their plates. When we give ourselves permission to break free from habits and entertain the realm of not only what is possible, but what might just no longer be impossible. Thanks for another great thought provoking post, Mark!

    • Thank you for your comments, Tom. All of this is right in line with my notion — somewhere between a theory and a conviction — that people who do the most talking about wanting to change are the ones who want to do everything but change. Seems like just another part of life that needs to be acknowledged, accepted, and lived with (and worked around, if we can pull it off 😉).

      As always, I’m grateful for your comments and your intellectual kinship.

  4. Old habits be they good or bad sometimes as you well illustrated. The concept of doing things one way as that is how they have always been done is an indicator of resistance to change which in part I am and am not. We each may right or wrong or this way right or wrong but that is life. I am not disagreeing with you in the least but just based on my experience sometimes things are the way they are for no reason except for possibly G-d wants it to be a certain way.

    • Joel, I agree that there are good reasons for doing things certain ways. (“Why reinvent the wheel?”) On the other hand, the notion of “best practices” rubs me the wrong way because it suggests we’ve given up on trying to find better practices. But, as you suggest, to each his own.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    • There may very well be a better “best practice” which bears at least exploring. Children hate and resist change. Some react very negatively to it as they have gotten used to things being a certain way even if they are bad. Many adults act the same way. Resiting change by and large is a fear-based behavior. The paralyzing fear of the unknown can break any change that is for the good. As to what is good that is not for me to say. Thank you, Mark, for your feedback as well as your excellent article.

    • Thank you, Kimberly. I have a feeling it won’t surprise you to know I’m perfectly comfortable with sassy. 😲

      Kidding aside, I’m grateful for your comments, always.