Every now and then we hear someone, usually dissatisfied, saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The rationale behind this principle is very understandable: if something is working reasonably well, why should we change it? It is risky and things can go wrong.
However, something about this mindset bothers me. The last time I heard it was on a discussion forum at ProZ.com, the world’s leading translator community. Many users were furious because the site staff made significant changes to one of the features of the website – the job search engine. This was one of the arguments of a user trying to convince the staff to go back to the previous layout: if it ain’t broke, don't fix it.
I don’t like long discussions, so I just read that and moved on, but I do like to understand human behavior. Did you realize that most people just hate change? It is human nature. In that particular case, people were used to the previous layout. They knew how to use it. Now someone simply goes there and changes everything. Why?! Now they will have to learn it all again. As Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
But what about the other side of the coin? Did the complainers even think about it for a second? The change was made by the staff. They put effort into it. I am quite convinced that they were trying to improve the system, rather than bothering users. Have they succeeded? I don’t know. But that’s not exactly the point. The point is, nearly every time someone says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” there is someone on the other side trying to improve things.
Where are you, in situations like that? Are you the one who always complains? Or are you the one who embraces changes and gives them an honest try before judging?
In a deeper sense, we are talking about comfort zone here. “If it ain’t broke, don't fix it” is a comfort-zone mindset. Just stay where you are. Do not improve. Do not try anything new. Just keep the status quo.
Again, I do understand the pain of having to deal with new situations. It easier to stay where we are now. On the other hand, should we criticize someone for trying to improve things? I don’t think so. And that’s exactly what we do when we say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
One of the fundamental requirements of most quality systems is continuous improvement, not keeping things as they are. Therefore, when you hear someone saying that–or even catch yourself thinking like that–take this a red flag. It is just a desperate cry to stay in the comfort zone. Resist it. Staying in the comfort zone doesn’t lead to any improvement.
My suggestion? Replace the poor “if it ain’t broke, don't fix it” mindset with Tim Duncan’s advice:
Good, better, best.
Never let it rest.
Until your good is better
and your better is best.
Much better, isn’t it?
Matheus R. Chaud
I am a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker with extensive experience in translation, proofreading, editing, subtitling, and quality assurance.