If it aint great, break it.

There’s an old saying which really annoys me.  I’m sure you’ve heard it, it goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”.

Shocking use of English aside, it’s the very idea that it might be actual wisdom, just because it’s got a saying.

There’s only one thing to do when someone levels this at you, and that’s to cock your right eyebrow and throw back (what I think should be) the second part to that saying – “if it ain’t great, break it”.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the utilitarian sentiment of the saying, it’s that I don’t believe that the other guy does.  Had that sentiment not been robbed of the saying by so many people using it as shorthand for “the current solution is good enough”, then I might even be tempted to use it myself; only what I would mean would better be paraphrased as “improving this solution is not currently the best way to deploy our resources” (trips right off the tongue, doesn’t it).

And what this all comes down to is the nature of competition.  We all compete in our respective markets, whether we’re selling products or services, and it behoves us all to sit and have a good think about who it is that we’re competing with, and what they might be up to.  We’re all aware of our peers, and the daily hustle-bustle of keeping ourselves in the lead.  What we’re less aware of are those game-changing projects and startups that are going on behind closed doors.

These are the guys that will catch us with our pants down as we sit around congratulating ourselves because, whilst our online checkout might have room for improvement, it’s still better than the next competitor.  After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – right?

When the upstart bursts onto the market with their 1-click order functionality, storage of credit card details and targeted cross-sell embedded into the shopping cart, both us and the next competitor will be forced into innovating quickly, just to keep up.  Even when we do rush out our improved checkout process, it’ll look very ‘me too’, and worse, while we’ve been rushing out our answer to their innovation, they’re working on the next game-changer.

If that competitor never becomes complacent, and we’re always playing catch-up, there are no prizes for guessing where the customer will go.

Microsoft, I’m looking at you…