Why are we so QWERTY?

Business Principle

Are you familiar with QWERTY? No, I’m not talking about the inanimate character in the Veggie Tales movies (yes, I have small children); I’m talking about the standard letter distribution for 99.9% of computer keyboards. QWERTY was developed in the late 1800’s for primitive typewriters. These typewriters commonly got jammed if the typing was too fast. To remedy this problem the letter distribution was modified TO SLOW TYPISTS DOWN. This design was soon accepted into mainstream culture, even though typewriters and computers are no longer plagued by this jamming problem. Today we all use QWERTY without even thinking twice about it (look at the top left-hand corner of your keyboard and notice the Q-W-E-R-T-Y.) Did you know that there is alternative model that is faster and more productive? It’s called the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard and it was developed in 1936. In this model the most commonly used letters are more conveniently distributed. This allows for greater typing speeds and fewer repetitive strain issues like carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, the world record holder for speed-typing clocked in at 212 words per minute using the Dvorak model. Sounds like we really missed the boat on that on right? What? You’ve never heard of any of this? That’s okay it’s not your fault. This is just an example of what happens when we blindly follow the status quo and assume that what has been done for years is the best, most effective method.

This is a common problem for businesses and leadership. We get in a routine where we do what has always been done because …… That’s the way it’s always been done. It’s important to think critically (not cynically, there’s a big difference) about everything we do. Assumptions are everywhere and they hold us back from our true potential.

Scriptural Support

These kinds of assumptions are common throughout history and have always kept us from realizing our potential. Such was the case with the “flat world” hypothesis which discouraged growth and exploration because no one wanted to fall off the edge of the Earth. The scriptures are also filled with examples of these kinds of assumptions. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament contain stories and teachings warning us against the false “traditions of men” (see Lev. 18:30, Jer. 10:3, 2Chr. 30:7, Matt. 15:3, Mark 7:8). Sometimes these assumptions led to really tragic events, like the crucifixion of a completely perfect person.

So, as an enlightened leader be on the lookout for the false assumptions of the status quo within your organization. A “QWERTY” could be anywhere and chances are it is significantly slowing you down.

Comments: Do you think this is an important concept? Have you seen any examples of a real world “QWERTY?” What kinds of things do you think fit into this category?


One thought on “Why are we so QWERTY?

  1. You mean besides the QWERTY? Sure, BETA video players were vastly superior to VHS by many accounts, Apple’s operating system has a superior structure to DOS and Windows, and sugar cane is a superior alternative to corn for making biodiesel – yet the system chose the “weaker” alternative for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is just because of how things were always done, and sometimes it is because of some other element at play that we don’t necessarily realize until the practice has become institutionalized.

    You might find some of the thoughts of Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers fairly interesting. He points out some of the things are systems have perpetuated that are not necessarily good – they just are what they are and have outcomes that no one expected. I find the book seems a little too fatalistic in some of what he is saying, but if you read the final chapters where he explains what he hopes will change, you can see why he is pointing it out.

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