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Phrases of Undoing | April 26, 2011

I was talking to my mom the other week and I was describing the concept of Kaizen to her. Kaizen is a philosophy of continuous improvement – anything you do can be made a little bit better. This is important in business, where any sense of complacency that everything is sorted and good today leads to bankruptcy and unemployment tomorrow. It’s by this process that the Japanese developed their high quality production lines, while the rest of the world was turning out cars that often rolled off the line not quite done, and had to have some remedial work done before they could be shipped off.

This got me thinking about the saying “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”, and how utterly useless it is. Just because something isn’t totally broken, it doesn’t mean it can be the best it is. How backwards would the world be if everyone had taken this phrase to heart?

And this is not alone in its misguiding, here are some other useless phrases that get chucked at kids:

“If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” This is a good idea until you realise that there are very few things that can be done well the first time you have a go at them. I don’t think this idiom affects kids too much, but it festers in the mind and becomes a problem later in life. Many adults won’t try something new, simply because they know they’ll be rubbish at it at first.

“A bad workman blames his tools.” If you have a poor tool, you will either A) do the job badly or B) take longer doing the job than your boss wants you too. Bosses have been using this phrase for too long to put the blame on their staff.

Next time you think about uttering one of these pearls of wisdom just remember that idioms are only sound bites that have become popular. And like most sound bites, they have no nutritional value.

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