If It Ain't Broke, Fix It Anyway

Everything you know about business is Wrong: If it ain't broke, fix it anyway. Because it soon will be. Your rivals will make sure of that.

by Alaster Dryburg
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

As MT launches its new look, it's worth reflecting on that old adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. This is excellent advice, provided you live in an unchanging world and you have reached the ultimate pinnacle of perfection.

Now neither of these two things is ever true, but the danger is that we behave as if they were. Nothing lasts forever, but it is so tempting to assume that it does that our default position is to continue in a steady state for as long as humanly possible. But in fact the opposite is true: the base case is decline, and all life, business or individual, is a battle against entropy and decay.

Some of these forces are simply related to the passage of time; technology advances, tastes change, or customers just get bored and want something new. Other forces are more intentional - whatever you are doing, someone somewhere is working on making you obsolete.

Whether it's Japanese cars vs the US automakers in the 1980s or cloud computing against Microsoft today, there are always people who want a slice of your pie. They know they can't compete head-on, so they work on changing the rules.

Here's a useful, if alarming, exercise. Look back over the past five years at how much has changed. Now go back to your plans for the future and see if they incorporate a similar level of change.

Take a lesson from those who live with rapid change. Intel, for example, 90% of whose revenues in any given December come from products that weren't shipping in the previous January.

What's the most famous phrase associated with Intel? It's Andy Grove's memorably titled business classic, Only the Paranoid Survive. So cultivate some productive paranoia.

Whether it is a sharp-elbowed competitor or the forces of entropy, someone or something is working for your downfall. What, or who, is it? You need to get ahead of them. You are either one step ahead or falling behind. There is no steady state.

Alastair Dryburgh is a consultant and speaker specialising in problems that cannot be solved by normal means. More at alastairdryburgh.com.

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