The War Between Innovation & "It Ain't Broke"


“But, that’s how I’ve always done it…” Sound familiar? I was hit recently with this phrase when explaining to my soon-to-be-teenage daughter why she should try doing something in a different (read: my) way. It opened an interesting dialogue about innovation and creative problem solving - a conversation I’m always happy to have.

I’ve been pondering this sort of war between “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” and “There has to be a better way!” ever since our conversation. It seems to me that most people are firmly fixed in one camp or the other. Some people are happily entrenched in their attitudes, ideas and daily accomplishments and are simply not open to anything new or slightly different, because different is uncomfortable. Even if it’s helpful and solves a problem, it’s just easier to keep doing what they’ve always done. Why is that? Is it fear? Is it laziness?

Then there’s the flip side: someone who is constantly tinkering and fixing so that there is no consistency at all. This lack of consistency and constancy is viewed as unreliable, flighty or not committed to the task or objective. So where do we find the middle ground?

We humans are born innovators. We exit the womb ready to try, learn, rinse and repeat. We are inherently creative. We had to be to survive. But it’s the little failures over time that break us - the tiny stress fractures of life that close us off and make us unwilling to create, solve or overcome. The effect is that our world becomes fractionally smaller constantly. We create a space for ourselves where we don’t have to create or be challenged. For many of us, all is rote, and it’s safe.

Except that it’s not.

We live in an ever-shifting set of circumstances. Your routine may not seem to change but the world around it fluxes every minute of every day. Simply put, if there is a change in the shell, it effects the yoke.

What if you’re not creative - that not being innovative isn’t a function of laziness, but a lack of creativity? The good news is that it doesn’t matter if you’re not a painter or sculptor or women’s wear designer. You can learn innovation. Author and Stanford Professor Tina Seelig posits an “innovation engine” whereby there is a structure to learning creativity and it starts with asking questions and challenging ourselves to resolve those questions and challenge the questions themselves.

Questions are the middle ground. Questions are the answer. Questions are where we find our creativity, our innovation and connections to each other. Because you’ve “…always done it this way…” doesn’t answer a question, nor does it ask one. Be curious. Find your curiosity, because curiosity leads to knowledge and knowledge leads to more questions. And that is exactly as it should be.


LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company produces training events utilizing theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.