If It Ain’t Broke… Break It… before your competition breaks it for you! Lessons we can learn from others’ failures – #CoffeewithColm Episode 195

Were you taught, as I was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

Bad advice I’m afraid.

Twentieth Century advice at best. Or perhaps at its worst!

Bill Gates of Microsoft fame was asked in the late ’90’s, did he fear the big companies – such as the AOLs and the Intels – that could damage his business? He rather arrogantly said no, but then admitted that what kept him awake at night was the thought of “two guys in a garage”.

Fascinating. But real.

Two guys in a garage at that time were Sergei Brin and Larry Page and what were they tinkering with? A new search algorithm you may have heard of called Google!

The four most societally influential companies on the planet as I pen this are Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have fundamentally and forever changed the way we operate as a species. Your iPhone was first launched in September 2007 – prior to that you may have had a Nokia… apart from the nostalgia value, would you go back? Could you go back?

Here’s the problem – Nokia wasn’t broke, so they didn’t fix it.

Instead, someone else fixed it (even though it wasn’t broke) and consigned Nokia to the back of the pack – according to Wikipedia (there’s another disrupter – remember Encyclopedia Britannica?) Nokia, founded in 1865 was the world’s 415th-largest company measured by 2016 revenues according to the Fortune Global 500, having peaked at 85th place in 2009.

To find out what happened Kodak and to hear about a success story, watch the video (6 mins lesson), listen to the podcast (6 mins lesson) or read on below…

Founded in 1888, Kodak was a dominant force in the photographic film industry becoming almost ubiquitous through their memorable “Kodak Moment” tag line. The problem? Their customers were not interested in photographic film – what did they want instead? Images. Not film. For over a hundred years it wasn’t broke, so they didn’t fix it and then the company itself went broke and filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

The bitter irony in the Kodak Story is the fact that Although Kodak developed the first handheld digital camera in 1975, the product was dropped for fear it would threaten Kodak’s main income; its photographic film business.


I was at a seminar recently and the speaker was talking about Gillette, famous for razors, and spoke of their built-in cannibalization strategy – apparently as soon as they launch a new product – DESIGNED TO CANNIBALIZE THEIR EXISTING RANGES – they mobilize a team of half dozen bright young Turks to BREAK it.

Gillette, founded in 1901, now immediately and strategically sets out to break every new product as soon as it is launched!


They live by “If it ain’t broke, break it.” Because they know through bitter experience that if they don’t break it, someone else will. Fact. Not someone else might – someone else will…

By the way, how did they come up with this strategy?

Because in the ’60’s, even though it wasn’t broke, someone else broke it for them!

In 1960 Gillette introduced the Super Blue, a silicon-coated blade and as a result, by end 1961 Gillette’s double edge blade market share had risen to 90 percent and held a total razor blade market share of 70 percent. Impressive!

In 1962, roughly two years after the introduction of the Super Blue blade, Wilkinson Sword, a British CUTLERY maker (what right did they have to enter the razor market? cheek of them!)  introduced the world’s first razor blade made from stainless steel.

According to users, the blade stayed sharp about three times longer than the best carbon steel blades – including Gillette’s. Wilkinson’s introduction took Gillette by surprise and the company struggled to respond and by 1963 had lost 20% market share.

My friend, we all (Yours Truly included) need to heed this vital business lesson. From today on we need to live and work guided by the counter-intuitive mantra, “If it ain’t broke, break it!”

Because as as sure as eggs are eggs, there are two guys or girls in a garage somewhere with your product or service in their crosshairs.

Sleep well now…


Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly.


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Did you enjoy that? Fancy a sip of some of my recent “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:

  • Better People Make Better All Blacks and Build Better Businesses – click here
  • The Show Goes Up at 8 o’clock – The Show Must Go On (Personal and business lessons taken from the live entertainment industry) – click here.
  • Anything worth doing is worth doing… badly! Click here.


  • The ‘Man on the Train’ story. How my fortunes changed through a seemingly random (is there any such thing?) meeting – click here.

HIRE ME TO SPEAK. Consider me speaking at your event, launch, awards, or as your after-dinner keynote. Find out more here.

OURBOARD. Need Mastermind Group help with your business? Check out OurBoard. Find out more here.

FREE AUDIO BOOK. If would like a complimentary copy of my book “Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks” in audio, narrated by Yours Truly so you get all the nuances, feel free to grab one here.

LinkedIn. Perhaps the thing to do right now is simply to hook up professionally on LinkedIn – if that’s of interest, click here.

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