Sacred Cows

Sacred Cows

David Hadley

Having recently read an article on Sacred Cows I thought it worthwhile sharing.

The article began with a story about a US Army General watching his UK equivalent arrange the firing of a large cannon. The US General noticed the British used one extra soldier in this process. When questioned, the British General responded that they have always done it this way. As it turned out the extra soldier’s role was to stand at attention at the back. Previously however his duty was to hold the horses while the cannons fired. Now that the horses were no longer used, no-one had thought to change or reassign this role.

An example of a sacred cow

A scared cow is something that has always been done and never questioned. For some reason they are untouchable, they are never talked about and in the main ignored. They are as some would say, ‘business as usual’ items. They continually get done the same way as they don’t appear to have any negative effects and things remain comfortable as there is no need for change.

So what is the problem with this?

Essentially the concern is if ‘business as usual’ is blindly accepted as the only way or even the norm, then you become stuck in the same cycle and struggle to accept change. This rings a little bit of the bestselling business book “Who Moved My Cheese” written by Dr Spence Johnson where “Hem” and “Haw” kept going back to the same treasure chest until it was empty and then did not know what to do. But that is a whole different story.


The solution to this is not to simply accept that the way it is done now is necessarily the right way. Don’t be afraid to question the system that is in place. Look for better ways to do things. Is the current process a smart way of doing it or is it a sacred cow? If we did do it a different way would it cause bedlam or improvement?

Consider discussing the processes in your business with an outsider (like your accountant). This may give you a different view and assist in the decision if change is required or things should remain as they are. Discuss with the team as they may also have reasons why it is done this way, or even thought of better ways to do it.

Obviously it is very important, no critical, to understand why it has been done this way in the past to ensure that any change is for the better and not change for changes sake. However if it can be done better, the sacred cow needs to be eliminated. In the end if it can be done better then it makes sense to do it that way.