If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging…“First Law of Holes”
The questionable wisdom of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” becomes even more suspect when we realize how easily the brokenness, inefficiency, or insufficiency of something can be overlooked or ignored. Organizations cannot afford not to have continuous monitoring, analysis, and improvement efforts as integral components of their everyday operations. Otherwise, they may never realize when they are in a hole and should stop digging — and that hole can become a trap (or even a grave).
Unfortunately, there never seems to be a “good time” for diverting attention and effort from what we are doing to revisiting its how, why, how-else and what-else — or for making the needful changes that such revisiting might identify.
The rationalizations for deferral often center around resources and priorities. Almost never does extra time, money, or manpower present itself uncontested, begging to be applied to initiatives of introspection and improvement: almost always, there are multiple squeaky wheels that clamor and compete for every last bit of grease that an organization can supply. All too often, it takes a major catastrophe — death, injury, data breach, product recall, class-action lawsuit — finally to justify pausing, investigating, and improving what could and should have been addressed long ago.
Sometimes, more complex and subtle issues are involved. Most of us are justly proud of the time, effort, and skill that we put into what we do and of its results; when someone else revisits or revises that work, it can be easy to feel defensive of its value and sufficiency. When faced with difficulty and complexity, it can be easy to find ourselves wrestling with perceived futility. Sometimes, we find a sense of comfort, continuity, stability, identity, purpose, or power in the status quo — and therefore we seek to postpone the implicit threat that comes even from contemplating the prospect of change.
However, since none of us is perfect, there’s almost always room for improvement in what we do and in how we do it. Even if the original design and ongoing execution are flawless, the surrounding requirements, constraints, and circumstances often change over time, thereby inviting or even demanding revisiting and possible revision. Even when there is no demonstrable deficiency in the present, we may miss valuable opportunities for a preferable future, if we rest on our laurels from the past.
Unless we intentionally set aside the time and other resources for integral, ongoing, comprehensive, proactive monitoring and analysis — and for implementing the needful changes that are identified thereby — we are vulnerable to hidden threats that fester undetected until their drastic manifestation mandates costly remediation. Those resources always will seem to be needed elsewhere “for now,” which is why “now” is never a “good time”. Nonetheless, the likelihood of a better time in the future is low, and the costs of clean-up are far greater than the costs of prevention.
Resolve today to incorporate continuously ongoing, proactive examination and improvement as an integral part of your organization’s culture, processes, and objectives.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.Chinese proverb (or perhaps, “The First Law of Trees”)