If It Ain’t Broke

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That maxim is not just incorrect. It’s downright destructive.

It’s an excuse for laziness.

Many things are on track to break. Indeed, because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, most likely everything will eventually break. Often, it is cheaper and better to fix something now, even if it’s not broken, than it is to fix it when it finally breaks. For many things, when it’s finally broken, it’s too late to fix.

Take the case of a person struggling with depression. On the outside, she may appear to be mostly normal. What’s the best course of action: to recommend a therapist, or to do nothing? Of course, one should recommend a therapist, even though she isn’t “broken” yet. By the time she breaks, and commits suicide, it will be too late to find a therapist.

Most of the time, things that aren’t broken don’t break that dramatically and with such severe consequences. But even so, that something is not broken is never a good argument that it should not be fixed.

Most innovation in human history has involved fixing things that are working. During its time, the Pony Express worked for delivering mail. It has since been replaced, not because it was ever “broken”, but because there’s a better way to do it. Imagine a world where we never invented email, because snail mail was never broken.

If all humans were content living in a world that’s imperfect, but still functional, then probably we would still be in the stone age. Could we really achieve a perfect world? Probably not. But that doesn’t give us an excuse not to strive for one. Just because it isn’t “broken” doesn’t mean it’s not worth fixing.

The greatest humans in history, those who have truly made huge contributions to society, basically dedicate their entire lives to fixing things that aren’t broken.

We, as individual human beings, don’t have to become the greatest humans in history. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less true that in many situations, the best thing we can do is fix something that “ain’t broke”.