If it ain’t broke…

For years we were taught that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s no longer good advice. The new mantra for the 21st century is “If it ain’t broke, break it.” This is also the title of a book written by Robert Kriegel and Louis Patler in 1992. In If it Ain’t Broke…Break It!: And Other Unconventional Wisdom for a Changing Business World the authors address the rapid pace of change today compared to that of previous generations.

They write, “Not only is everything changing, but everything exists in relationship to something else that is changing. If you or your products don’t grow, improve and evolve, as in nature, they (and you) will face extinction. Unconventional wisdom says: Treat your product as if it’s alive and it will stay that way.”

One of the biggest dangers to any business, and especially a small business, is complacency. It is believing that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future. It won’t. The reason we need to go ahead and break things is that they are going to become obsolete soon, and if we remain too dependent upon them we are going to find ourselves in trouble.

Complacency can only be overcome through innovation. We have to be constantly seeking new ways to do things, new products to replace the ones we have now, and better ways to serve our clients. As leaders we have to set aside time away from our usual responsibilities to think about how we can improve and change virtually everything we are doing. We need to give others in our businesses the freedom to think. We must find ways to reward innovation just as we do production.

I recently led a conference for small church leaders where I told them that long range strategic planning used to think out 20 years. I explained that is now no more than five years. Some of these leaders were shocked and asked me to repeat what I said. I did and explained that we’re fortunate if we can plan out even five years. Sometimes things change so drastically a year or two into our five year plan that we have to significantly revise it and maybe even scrap it and start over. It’s the same with small businesses.

We need to be aware of one problem with innovative thinking. There is always a tendency in any organization for corporate gravity to prevent our innovative ideas from taking off. As Gordon MacKenzie wrote in Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, “The ghosts of past successes outvote original thinking.” Every organization, unless it’s a brand new start-up, has a history. People remember the “good old days,” and they will want to continue to want to live in them. Policies and procedures that served the organization well in the past may work to prevent new ideas from flourishing.

As a leader in your organization one of your primary responsibilities is to remove the roadblocks that prevent your company from moving forward. Policies and procedures may need to be changed to reflect the changing culture. Your rewards system may need to be changed so innovative thinking can be recognized and rewarded. You must also lead the way in identifying what needs to be broken so it can be replaced with something more responsive to a changing future.

If it ain’t broke…break it. It will soon be obsolete anyway.Spend time each day reflecting on what changes are occurring in your world and how you and your organization can best address them.

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