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Procedural inertia and the unexpected virtue of (some) ignorance in the lab

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays

To get it out of the way, ‘procedural inertia’ just refers to the tendency for people to follow existing protocols and procedures solely because they, well, exist.

Some examples are:

  • Structuring meetings in a certain way because that’s how it’s always been done
  • Measuring a variable in a particular way just because others have used that method in the past
  • Copying the format of your colleagues’ blog posts because they were on the ball and finished before you…

I engaged in procedural inertia long before I had heard that term and still do today. It’s not always bad. In science, it’s usually a good idea to use previously validated methods or best practices; in life, it’s generally smart to follow the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The problem with procedural inertia is that—when unchecked—it can hinder creative problem-solving and limit the search for optimal solutions. The common way of doing things isn’t always the best way, or at least as time passes, it isn’t always the best way anymore.

When I first got into bioanalytics, I was fortunate that I had great mentors and fellow graduate students gracious enough to equip me with the skills that I needed to be successful in the lab. Nonetheless, I was still navigating a new space and I often questioned standard practices, mostly just to better understand why a given protocol worked the way that it did. In other words, I couldn’t resort to procedural inertia because I was still just learning the procedures. Many of the questions that I had were bad, but a few were good and led to new projects or protocol modifications. The time I spent playing around with these new ideas in the lab is what fostered my love for bioanalytics; and that’s why I am here today.

More broadly, I feel that an overlooked benefit of interdisciplinary research is the fresh perspective offered by scientists entering a new field. This, in large part, because they aren’t fixed on the traditional way of thinking about or doing things. Sure, there’s always a learning curve when beginning a project outside of your expertise, but there’s also value in the questions that come up along the way. At Eos BioAnalytics, we’re committed to providing a platform that promotes interdisciplinary research, cultivates creativity, and fuels innovation. We’d love to hear about how we can better accomplish these goals, lest we fall into the trap of procedural inertia ourselves.


Eos BioAnalytics is your hands-on research partner. We offer our clients and their biological samples the careful, individualized attention they deserve. And because we are intentionally small, we are able to do this while maintaining the strictest quality control standards in the business.
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