If It’s Not Broken, Break It!

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“When everything is running smoothly, there’s no impetus to change, to grow, to progress. It’s only when things stop running smoothly—when they break—that we suddenly look at alternatives and discover, often to our amazement, that there’s a better way.”

Oh, I know—you’ve got enough problems to deal with without tinkering with the stuff that’s already working. “The water’s already choppy,” you say in your platitudinous way. “Why rock the boat even more?” And I agree that things are still rough out there. If the so-called economic recovery were a medical recovery, we’d all be dead.

And still I want you to break the stuff that’s working.

Now here’s the caveat: I don’t want you to do this for real (or, as a younger friend of mine says, “for realsies,” although it’s cuter when she does it than when I do it). Yes, I want you to break your working systems, but only in your mind/on paper/within the privacy of your own team. I want you to do this for three reasons:

  1. It keeps you on your toes. It’s easy to get complacent when things are working well. You sit back in your comfy chair, gaze contentedly out at your successful operation, and fall blissfully asleep. So sound asleep, in fact, that you’ll hardly hear the competition running past you. And when you do finally wake up, you’ll find that you’ve lost your edge, your ability to react quickly. Great tennis players practice their footwork, because they know they’ll need it when the match is on the line. By the same token, you’ll need quick reactions when your business is on the line. The only way to keep your reactions sharp is with continual practice.
  2. You may discover a better way. When something is working well, it’s easy to let it fade off our radar. The only time we ever say, “There’s got to be a better way to do this!” is when we get frustrated with the current situation—and that only happens when the current situation is broken. But what if we were to look at our existing systems—the ones that are working—and say, “I wonder if there’s a better way to do this”? Or, better yet, assume that there is a better way, and then look for it!
  3. Stuff happens. [Please note that, in deference to our more sensitive readers, I avoided the expletive. That’s just the kind of guy I am.] Look, the sad truth is that systems are going to break eventually. That supplier you depend on will sell her business to somebody you can’t stand. A volcano will erupt in Iceland and disrupt all travel to Europe. Your hair dryer will catch fire when you’re late for a party. Unexpected things happen all the time. So why not be prepared? Play the “What if?” game while things are still working; that way, you’ll have a head start when they eventually (and inevitably) do break down.

The Beatles were already doing quite well when their new manager told them to stop smoking and drinking on stage. They were the hottest band in Liverpool. Their “system” was working. It wasn’t broken—so they broke it themselves, and changed the world.

What systems/services/product lines are you willing to “break” today in order to create a better tomorrow?


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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