How did you complete that headline? "Don't fix it?" Or something more like, "Break it!"? How would your company's leadership answer it? I think this one simple statement can tell us a lot about an organization's prospects for success today and in the future.
This thought was sparked by a post I came across on Medium titled, "The Secret of Steve". The post shares a perspective on what made Steve Jobs tick and drove his decisions at Apple. It's main point is that Steve constantly asked, "Why doesn't it work?" In other words, what could be better about this product/marketing/etc.?
The section in particular that grabbed me was this:
“Why doesn’t it work?” deceives us with its simplicity. The first challenge is asking it. The Chief Engineer refused to consider this question. His logic: Sales are rising and customers are happy, therefore nothing is broken and there is nothing to fix.
Sales + Customers = Nothing Broken is the formula for corporate cyanide. Most big companies that die kill themselves drinking it. Complacency is an enemy. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” is an impossible idiom. No matter what the sales, no matter what the customer satisfaction, there is always something to fix. Asking, “Why doesn’t it work?” is creation’s inhalation. Answering is breathing out. Innovation becomes suffocation without it.
“Why doesn’t it work?” has the pull of a pole star. It sets creation’s direction. For Jobs and the iPhone the critical point of departure was not finding a solution but seeing a problem: the problem of permanent keyboards making smarter phones harder to use. Everything else followed.
Not changing a product because it's selling just fine is one form of corporate cyanide. But it's not just that so many companies take the, "If it ain't broke don't fix it," mentality. It also happens from the way a lot of companies do look to change their products. That view is the greedy view. Instead of looking to improve a product or service for the customer, they look to improve the profit margins for themselves.
Rather than asking, "Why doesn't it work?", they ask, "How can we make more money from this?" This often ends up in teams of really smart people looking for how to take costs out of the product while holding the price steady. It becomes a game of "how cheap can we make this yet still get people to pay the same price for it?" As a customer, that sounds great, doesn't it?
I've always believed that one of the keys behind Apple's success is that they work hard to make their own products irrelevant before a competitor does. Sure some of this has to do with them working in technology and the pace of innovation in that industry. But it also has to do with them constantly seeking to provide people with a better experience. They don't just upgrade the hardware and components. They're also constantly tweaking the software to improve usability and enjoyment.
I can't help but think that the world would be in a lot better place if more companies shared this approach. Thankfully, we're starting to see more companies pop up who do and are working to make things better.