Ghost Gestures

When change happens, we can be left with habits that no longer have a purpose. These ghost gestures are strange legacies of a world in constant transition. Some fade quickly. Others hang around.

I recently started returning to the office and in a new building. This week as I got into the fancy new lifts it struck me that the lifts have no buttons inside. These new lifts are the modern kind where you order your lift in the foyer and are sent to the desired lift. I realised this when distracted I walked into my lift and tried to press a button. I have acquired a ghost gesture.

A ghost gesture is a habit you acquired that no longer has a purpose. Because of changes, the original purpose of the habit has been lost but you carry on doing it. The gesture is an echo of a lost time that won’t let go of this world.

Our working lives are often full of ghost gestures. Reports are prepared because someone once wanted them even though nobody still reads them. Meetings are held because the time is in everyone’s calendar and people still turn up and talk. People print papers for meetings because that was the only way once. People write role purpose statements because there is a system to put them in.

Digital systems and especially workflow can be full of these empty habits. People digitise the process as it is. Once built into the system the cost of changing the system means these ghost gestures live far beyond their usefulness. Stripping away the ghosts can improve the work and the process enormously.

These ghost gestures continue until someone asks why. That question alone is often enough to release everyone from their torment. The gestures continue because they are habitual. Focus and presence of mind frees them.

Take the time to be present and ask why things work they do. You might release yourself and others from the presence of ghosts of past changes.

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