What Have You Broken Lately?

The 80’s have been enjoying a nice little nostalgia revival in popular culture lately, as all of us who were children at that time are now having children of our own. My favorite part of the whole shtick is seeing all the old things I used to disassemble back then (dust buster, RC cars, Atari system, Rubik’s cube, Toy Robots) all done with a smuggled screw driver lifted quietly from dad’s tool kit.

I broke ALL of this stuff, man! The vast majority of it worked at the time I stripped it down and I told my parents (when caught) that I was just seeing how it worked and I was going to put it all back together the way I found it. Good story, young Rob.

So what did I do with all of it? While ruining a lot of things, I also made some really cool stuff: A keyed switch box from an old security system I found in the trash became my means of keeping my little brother from using my RC car when I wasn’t around by wiring it to the main power source. The old Dust Buster turned into a sweet battery powered fan I took everywhere with me. More things than not, just wound up as junk pieces I would tinker with for hours on end.

All this brings me to the main point here, the one covered in Seth’s speech below – so much of what we are given to do as children is rehearsal for jobs of following instructions. No one wants us to innovate anything, or more importantly – to fail in the pursuit of innovation. It’s messy in the short run and we’re conditioned to be scared to death of that fear of short term failure. Maybe we think the single effort that turns out to be fruitless will infect the rest of our actions – winding us up as one big eternal loser – the starving artist, the hermit inventor, the failed dancer.

Because I really like what I do I’ve never stopped tearing apart my toys. Only thing is, now, instead of wires and electric motors it’s spreadsheets, policies, and marketing efforts. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t tear something down for the simple sake of destruction. We tear things down because a better way is possible and achievable and can only be built on the foundation of the old. We tear it down because what we have is ugly and outmoded and we have outgrown it – it no longer serves us, or other people.

I’m not going to lie, a little more than half of people I’ve worked with over the years have hated this. These could be corporate support people, or bosses, coworkers, vendors, etc… anyone who’s life was disrupted by my curiosity and instance when a better way was possible. “This is the way we’ve always done it” or “It’s fine! Just leave it alone! Who cares anyway?”

The other half though?

That’s what and who you do it for. Those that want a better way, a simpler, faster, higher quality way. A more elegant way. Not just the veneer of progress, but actual, honest-to-goodness ingenuity coming through with a higher quality process for… anything!

So break something this week. Crack open your corporate policy on how to handle customer concerns, or some internal process and see if you can’t actually make a better mousetrap. If the process doesn’t make you smile at it’s simplicity and beauty, it’s probably ready for a revision.

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