‘Cause that’s the way its always been done


Those who know me well are not surprised that I watched the movie “Gettysburg” this weekend. It is a tradition for me to watch it at some point during the anniversary of the battle, July 1-3. Yes I am a Civil War history nerd.

One thing that always strikes me in the movie and Civil War history in general is the amount of death and casualties caused by failure to adapt military operations to the technology that evolved right before the Civil War. The American Civil War was the first conflict to use submarines, ironclad warships, land and water mines, repeating rifles and aerial observation effectively.

In the battle and movie “Gettysburg”, the one thing that strikes me is the failure of the infantry to adapt their tactics to the improvement in weapons that occurred since the Napoleonic era when the tactics were devised.  Smoothbore muskets were replaced by rifles and artillery was improved, both increasing the range and effectiveness of those against infantry charges.  This was very evident in the failure of the climax of the battle, Pickett’s Charge.  For those unfamiliar with the event, it was a charge by over 15000 Confederate troops over 1000 yards of open ground, subject to artillery fire all the way and rifle fire a good portion of it.  Needless to say, the casualties were horrible with over 50% of those involved being killed or wounded.  The reason the charge was done that way is basically that’s how general’s were taught and until the Civil War, that was the way it was done.

How this ties into HR or management is the reluctance of many in our profession to embrace new technology  or change because “that’s the way its always been done”.  If there is a phrase that I have detested since entering management, it is that tired old excuse for not looking at new things.  You need to at least investigate the new ideas to see how it will affect how you do your job or business.  After thorough research, you can then decide if the new way of doing things is or is not for you or your organization.  To use an old cliché, you can’t drive forward by always looking in the rear view mirror.

Check out technology and new methods to see how it is changing the battlefield.  If you don’t, you could easily end up as a casualty.


4 Responses to “‘Cause that’s the way its always been done”

  1. Jessica Miller-Merrell Says:


    Good post aside from being a history nerd which I already knew. This is a good analogy. Failure to try or be open to a new way of doing things is just like instructing your soldiers to charge with a high probability of casualties.

    Good stuff, John.


  2. Trish McFarlane Says:

    Great post. In addition to not being open to adapting to new things, the real failure of Pickett’s charge as I understand it is that Lee’s army did not realize that the artillery they purchased from a new vendor was not made the same way as what they were used to. Therefore, there were some grave miscalculations made which led to many more members of Lee’s army being killed. Had they made proper calculations about how far the rounds would actually travel, it would have been different. They did not realize that their gunfire had no way of reaching the mark until far too late.

    Critical errors in adapting and in preparation are both lessons we need to heed in business today.

  3. Dave Says:

    Well, when things get complicated and change is in the air, the best thing to do is to close your eyes and chant:


    This always works, and avoids having to actually think.

  4. asenathe Says:

    I face the same issue at my company. There are no strategic policies in place to ensure a consistent flow of communication, task, roles and expectations. It is alway’s “been done this way” attitude infuses low productivity and low retention. Just started at the company and hope to make a difference.

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