One of my favorite lines from a book I read many years ago is about cows. Well, not literally about cows, but uses a metaphor about a perception of cows. The perception is that cows will do the same thing over and over again because well … they will. They’ll follow the same trail to the pasture day in and day out. They’ll go through the same routine over and over. And they’ll get the same results day after day too.

Just like many of us will do too. And just like the companies we work for will do too. It’s too easy to revert back to what we know. So we repeat the things that we think work over and over, again and again. Partially because we know (or think we know) what works and also partially because we may not feel empowered to do something different. The line from the book suggests that we take a risk and step outside our comfort zones…and Not Pave the Cow Paths.

Ask the Question

When you are thinking through a problem or trying to understand a process take a moment to step back and ask the question. “Are we just paving the cow paths?” or some variation of this question. The crux of asking the question is to get to the base level elements of what’s going on and asking if we are just doing the same thing over and over again…and getting the same old results. If the answer is yes…you just might be paving the cow paths.

Why ask the question?

The second part of asking the question is…What if we did something different? What if we didn’t just streamline (aka pave) the existing processes (aka the cow paths)?

Could asking this question enhance your career?
Could considering the implications of the existing processes improve your leadership skills?
Could evaluating a better way do things make you a better manager?

I think the answer to each of these questions is yes.

Whether interviewing or already established in a career it’s never too late to ask the question…“How can we make sure we’re not just paving the cow paths?” Of course, in an interview cycle you’ll want to frame the question with softer borders. Perhaps just asking how things are done today…so that you can evaluate what might be rapid improvement cycle. If you are already established in your career have you ever wanted to streamline a process or to improve (or eliminate) a task? Asking the question may be the way to find out if that is possible.

Momentum is going to be one of the biggest impediments. Because it’s too easy to revert back to what we know…or what we think we know works. Take a chance and ask the question. Be prepared to push back against the momentum from those that want to the keep the processes the same.

Be prepared to take action so that you…Don’t Pave the Cow Paths.

If you want to read the book…which I can highly recommend check out Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers by Robert Kriegel.


Jeff  is a veteran in the Enterprise Content Management industry. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. Jeff is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances at Winshuttle. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), K2, Captaris, Open Text, Kofax and Kodak. He speaks and blogs about ECM and the Intersection between Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing.