“If It Ain’t Broke… Break it!” book reflection #3

Chapters 7, 8, 9 have been my favorite chapters so far in Kriegel’s book.

He begins with his advice that playing it safe can be dangerous in the business world. He also gives some sports analogies to back up his advice of athletes that tried playing not-to-lose when under pressure. Pro golfers and tennis players that should’ve dominated their lower ranked opponents, but chose to play it safe and wound up losing their matches. Professional athletes and corporate managers can fall into a trap of being too hesitant, too cautious, too defensive, and take no risks. In the corporate world, these behaviors can be things like selling price rather than value, calling lots of meetings, cutting costs, delay decisions to move forward, and paralysis by analysis. Another trap of the play it safe model is to create multiple committees to evaluate every innovative idea, or sometimes called “CYA”, (cover your ass). The hottest innovative idea can become lukewarm when watered down by the all the committee members. PepsiCo defined a committee as “a dark alley down which new ideas are led to be strangled”.  Another version of playing not-to-lose is the ever-popular cut, cut, cut when the going gets tough. Cut costs, cut budgets, cut overhead, cut inventory, and cut R&D.

In my career, the most powerful tactic for success was the ability to change the game and not compete head to head with my competition. Kriegel provides a couple real life examples of companies that had success avoiding head to head competition and a price war situation. Levi-Straus gained huge market share on Haggar by creating a new casual men’s pants, Dockers, instead of continuing to offer only blue jeans. Their sales increased from $1 million to $500 million in four years with this new offering. In the 50’s, Volkswagen changed the game when it introduced the Bug during a time in America when big finned muscle cars were the only offering from Detroit. By not competing directly with the Big Three auto makers and promoting the think small model, VW won big! Kriegel says when you compete head-on, you are implicitly agreeing to play the same game, to abide by certain rules and assumptions, which limit creativity. Innovation will be rule-bound and therefore restricted to small incremental changes. From a sports perspective, there is no better example of changing the game than Dick Fosbury and how he revolutionized high jumping. The conventional method at the time was called the western roll, a feet-first approach to the bar. Fosbury innovated a new approach called the Fosbury Flop which was initiated headfirst and back to the bar. This new method earned him a gold medal in the Olympics and became the standard for high jumping even today.  

Chapter 9 has the best title ever, “Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers”. I love that! Sacred cows come in a few varieties;

  • A Corporate Cows is an obsolete corporate culture. The shared beliefs, assumptions, and values of the corporation.
  • A Company Cow is the archaic, complex set of company policies. Most corporate policies and procedures are inherited from predecessors. To challenge company policy is perceived as disloyalty.
  • A Departmental Cow is grazed in fields of turf wars. Different departments within a company resist change or the urge to challenge the procedures of another department. There is a power struggle fueled by fear.
  • An Industry Cow is an unquestioned industry-wide standard set of operating procedures. Blindly following the herd when it comes to organizational concepts, and industry-wide practices, in the manner it has always been done.
  • A Personal Cow is made up of unproductive routines, ruts and habits we impose on ourselves. Usually this leads to more paper work and less creativity. The goal should be to liberate people to do their most innovative work.

Kriegel says; get in the habit of breaking your habits.

Reference; “If It Ain’t Broke…Break It!” by
Robert Kriegel and Louis Patler

4 thoughts on ““If It Ain’t Broke… Break it!” book reflection #3

  1. Devon,

    I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with the idea that playing it safe can be dangerous for up and coming startup that need to have a significant breakthrough in their own markets. I am not advocating for complete recklessness, but definitely pushing limits and going outside of comfort zones. In order to be able to make inroads within established markets, new entrants need to be able to offer something great and unique that will make customers leave their current providers and flock to new businesses. I think this can be achieved by by doing things differently and offering something that has never been done before whether it’s quality, efficiency, durability, excellence, it just needs to be something that will set the new entrant startup apart from the competition. Also, it is important to remember that many times there are pools of customers that have not been tapped, mostly because the current businesses might not be offering what customers are looking for. Once again, new opportunities to set yourself apart.

    Best regards,

    -Jose F. Saavedra


  2. Hello Devon

    This post speaks to many jobs I have held. I think that the best way for a company or product to move forward is to break the norms of the industry. Otherwise you remain stagnant in your ways and fall behind the competition. Innovation is there for the taking, but that involves risk and a lot of companies are very risk averse whenever they should be taking calculated risks to stay ahead of the competition.



  3. Hi Devon,
    This process of just going for it seems counterintuitive, but the most significant rewards are often accompanied by the biggest risks. In the world of business we can’t expect to make reasonable advances, or even attempt to compete in the marketplace, without taking risks.
    I actually purchased this book in addition to the one I selected for the class. I am looking most forward to reading about the “sacred cows” and learning to break habits that may be inhibiting opportunities for innovation.


  4. Hi Devon,

    With the sports analogies that you mentioned, he couldn’t be more correct. I do Olympic lifting, and when I try to change the way my muscle memory has been engrained, I will miss my lift, even if it is light. Playing “not-to-lose” is such a negative mentality, it is like merely surviving! I learned in undergrad that those that merely are trying to survive will become stagnant.


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