‘Constructive subversion’: turning off workplace autopilot


Two blue light directions arrow at the angle on a grey old brick wall with the text new and old way

Unthinking custom and practice is the enemy of innovation, and unless questioned, will maintain the status quo. Ethics Centre chief Simon Longstaff explains how constructive subversion can help public sector leaders shake things up.

Examination of long-held practices that go on without much thought is an essential step towards developing more open and collaborative work environments that encourage innovation, advises corporate leader and Ethics Centre chief Simon Longstaff.

“Apart from the laws of nature themselves, everything else that we see around us is the product of human choice,” he pointed out at last week’s Innovation Month conference, setting up an unusual exploration of what is behind those choices. In the workplace, there’s often nothing much at all.

It’s common to go with the flow at work because traditionally, most employees are discouraged from questioning the status quo. This regularly leaves organisations or entire professions at the mercy of potentially dangerous groupthink. “There’s no point invoking innovation as a value if you reward the wrong kind of behaviours.”

Long-established habitual practices, maintained because that’s just the way it’s done or through the time-honoured strategy of doing what everyone else does are the enemies of innovation, according to Longstaff.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.