There is a time to be wild and try crazy things, and a time to lean on tradition & habit. I think most people get those two situations exactly backwards.

When things are going very well for someone, they tend to coast. They don’t look too hard under the hood, and they don’t question things. Another entry in the “Johnny Loves Debunking Folksy Truisms” file is this one “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s terrible advice, and I’ll get to why in a minute.

Meanwhile, when things are going poorly and you’re in the red, people tend to panic. I’ve written before about why it’s so hard to do nothing even when “nothing” is the right call, and it’s still true. When the chips are down, people – for a wide variety of reasons – start wanting to mess with all the settings.

Let me explain why you should probably be doing exactly the opposite, and talk about why “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is terrible advice.

There’s a fable about an old man with a leaky roof. When it’s raining, the water falls through a hole in his roof, necessitating him putting a pot on the floor to catch it. He can’t fix the hole then because it’s raining, of course. And then when it’s sunny out and he could fix it, he’s not troubled by it – because no water is coming in through his roof. So his shortsightedness means that he never mends the hole in his roof.

Let’s take that and extrapolate on the lesson of it. Of course, the old man was half right – fixing your roof in the rain is a pretty terrible idea. Not only is it much harder, but the risk is also way higher – not just your personal risk of injury, but the risk that you’ll actually make the problem worse! One wrong move and a small hole could become a man-sized one and suddenly one small pot on the floor isn’t going to cut it as a stop-gap solution. No, during the rainstorm the correct move is just to hunker down – put the pot on the floor and ride it out.

We all recognize that in the story, the mistake of the old man wasn’t not fixing the roof in the rain, but rather, not fixing it in the sun. When the day is sunny, you can do anything! Lower risk, more available resources (such as good natural lighting to see by), and less chance of a big mistake doing anything to create immediate disaster. Even if you did put a bigger hole in your roof during your repair attempt, your living quarters would still be dry and you’d still have time to fix your mistake.

That’s a great analogy! When you’re in lean times, either as a business or an individual, you have to rely on the tried-and-true things to get you through that patch. Don’t try to think your way out – work your way out. Put in the time doing the most reliable things you know how to do until you’re in the black.

But when you are in the black? Try anything! With extra resources and a low risk point, that’s the time to try out new things, make riskier investments, etc.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say, “Oh man, I just got laid off from my job, so I think I’m going to go back to college and get another degree.” Those same people wouldn’t have taken a $50 online course for a relevant skill when they were employed, but now that they’re in a bad way they want to drop a thousand times that number (and several years) on something they aren’t sure about?

When your back is to the wall, work. When you’ve got a good amount of runway, that’s the time to get wild. Don’t reverse them. If it’s broke, fix it just enough to get it working again. If it ain’t broke, build ten new versions of it, so you have them when the first one breaks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s