Fixing What Broke

If this were a perfect world, everything would go great all the time. But since it’s not, we all must regularly deal with breakage: things that go wrong with situations, events, material items, relationships, plans, opportunities, hopes, dreams, and more. They all unintentionally encounter and suffer from occasional adverse forces or developments.

Since you can’t avoid breakage in your work and your life, the best you can do is fix it. But making these repairs can range from very easy to impossible, depending on what broke, when, where, how, and why.

This is a big reason why developing your ability to fix what broke is an important way to increase your level of productivity and success.

Of course, the specifics of fixing what broke is highly dependent on the details of the breakage. For example, fixing a busted relationship is a lot different from fixing a malfunctioning lawnmower. But there are some basic strategies that will help you fix what broke in almost every repair situation.

Here are some of the most important ones:

Identify What’s Wrong

I feel foolish telling you this, since troubleshooting is so obvious and essential in this discussion. But it’s important to look for exactly what’s broken, as a first step, because it’s a common error to try fixing the wrong thing and mistakenly leave the real breakage untouched.

This step includes identifying:

  • What’s not satisfactory about the situation? It may be – and often is – just one thing that’s causing the problem. But it’s important to check and see if more than one thing has gone wrong before you starting working on the repair.
  • What’s still OK and doesn’t need any remedial attention?
  • How finely-grained a repair is appropriate?

For example, when computer hardware fails, it’s rare that you dig into the innards and replace a broken circuit element. More often, you simply unplug some larger malfunctioning component like a memory chip or a power supply, and plug in a new one.

Similarly, if a business relationship hits a roadblock or obstacle, you shouldn’t expect to change the way you or another person values or prioritizes whatever is holding up progress. Instead, you’ll do better to find a simple but effective workaround or remedy that puts the relationship back on track, at least in the short term.

That’s why identifying what’s wrong is always the best first step in trying to put things back in working order.

Identify Who’s in Control

Once you know what’s wrong, it’s equally important to identify who has the power to fix it.

In our business relationship example, a problem that lies within another person’s authority is probably something you have no power to fix. However, you may still have some ability to get the other person motivated and suitably equipped to fix it.

The situation is a little more hopeful when what’s broken lies entirely within your bailiwick. This means that you can do all the troubleshooting on your own, as well as setting up for and executing the fix.

Of course, sometimes what’s broken is within no one’s power to repair. In romantic relationships, for example, people sometimes just lose that good chemistry that once bound them together. In business relationships, markets and industries often change in ways that make further cooperation and collaboration uneconomic.

Sometimes, bad things just happen. There is a video on the internet of a tragic accident (video not safe for children or the squeamish) in which a huge section of cliff falls into the lake below, killing ten people and injuring many others. No one has the power to fix that kind of breakage.

Knowing who’s in control of what’s broken is critical because trying to fix something that’s beyond your power to repair is a recipe for frustration and wasted effort. There’s also a good chance that mucking about in a situation you don’t control will only make things worse, rather than better.

Set Up to Fix It

After you’ve taken these steps to appraise what’s broken, and who – if anyone – has the power to fix it, you can begin to think about the potential for repair.

Again, the specifics of how to make the repair will depend on what’s broken, but generally, you want to consider such factors as:

  • Whether or not it’s possible to make the repair, or if you even want to,
  • What you can and cannot do in trying to make the repair,
  • The cost, resource requirements, and time-frames of various repair alternatives,
  • What cooperation you will need from others in attempting the repair,
  • How fully a repair can put things back the way they were.

Once you’ve decided to try to fix what’s broken, there are two major strategies to pursue:

Ready, Aim, Fire: In this strategy, which works best for larger breakages that will be expensive to repair, you create a full-scale plan for repairing what’s broken and execute it in sequence. Of course, you must remain ready to make adjustments to the plan as you go along.

Ready, Fire, Adjust:  In this strategy, which works best for smaller breakages or those with no clear pathway to repair, you work incrementally without a real plan. In other words, you take what looks like a sensible first step toward repair and then re-evaluate the situation. Then you take another step and re-evaluate again. You repeat this process until you’re done.

In addition to these various strategies, it’s helpful simply to believe that many things can be repaired. Armed with this attitude, you’re more likely to keep working to make the world better no matter how often you encounter unwanted breakage.

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