Fixing the Fastest Car

You’ve no doubt heard the classic saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It means, of course, that if something is working adequately, you should refrain from changing it. Leave good enough alone. This advice may be good or bad, depending on the situation.

For example, leaving good enough alone is bad advice for businesses that invest in continuous change so that their product, marketing, and communications teams can stay flexible in response to all the new disruptions. We can’t afford to become complacent. We all need to keep revising and improving the platforms we use. Even if what we’re doing today is working, things beyond our control may cause those things to become “broke” tomorrow.

But it’s good advice for businesses to avoid “fixing” a thing that not only isn’t broke but is doing a good job of the very thing it was designed to do.

I recently came across this kind of ill-advised fixing at a client advisory with a B2C product company. The two-year-old content team was telling me about a recent failure of epic proportions. They had created an owned media content platform for customers of their product. If you were a customer, you had access to events, resources, and lifestyle-oriented content that gave you a reason to stay loyal to the brand. It was working. Within nine months of this platform’s launch, they had 250,000 subscribers. Growth was in line with projections, and, by all measures, the business was deriving value from this content strategy. The team had created a thriving customers-only content hub.

One day, the brand and merchandising teams decided to fix the content hub. Instead of launching a new hub for prospective customers, they opened the existing hub to everyone, customers and noncustomers alike. It would be a win-win, they believed. Everyone would see how wonderful the community was and would thus be encouraged to become part of it by becoming a customer.

Now, perhaps on paper (or the digital equivalent) this looked like a good idea. But in practice it was a mistake. The editorial strategy changed, the exclusivity of membership disappeared, and subscribership plummeted. Traffic to the site did increase, but every other measure of an active, engaged community slowed.

The company essentially fixed the fastest race car on the track by making it also haul cargo.

Well, the original community no longer felt special, so it stopped caring about the content. New site visitors had no context for this community, so the great content that was focused on membership carried no weight for them. In short, by stretching the content hub to accommodate both audiences, the company failed to serve either. Their fix broke the platform.

In our passion for developing a nimble culture, we must avoid the temptation to evolve everything. We can’t confuse our boredom with a platform, or the “benefits” of consolidation, or simple straight-line performance with a need to fix something that’s performing well.

Fixing the fastest car in ways it doesn’t need to be fixed is one sure way to lose the race.