Enhancing the Mona Lisa with Finger-Paint

When do you need to leave excellence alone?

In 1985 Coca-Cola introduced an improved version of its stunningly successful soft-drink, called New Coke. It was a complete disaster. After howls of protest and collapsing sales, the company hastily retracted its steps and returned to its proven Coke recipe.

This historical blunder mirrors an ill-conceived endeavor of trying to “enhance” the Mona Lisa with finger-paint. This behavior is driven by a deadly combination of arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance. Take, for instance, Disney’s widely criticized overhaul of the Star Wars franchise or the controversial push to rewrite the cherished tales of Roald Dahl.

A helpful approach to avoid tampering with what works well is to understand the ‘Lindy effect:’ The future life expectancy, value and usefulness of an item, technology or idea is proportional to its current age. For example, the works of Shakespeare have been in print for hundreds of years, It’s very likely that that they will still be in print hundreds of years from now.

If an item, technology, or idea has a track record of large value, proven usefulness and long staying power, it’s probably best to leave it alone and focus your efforts on something else.

Instead of trying to improve an existing Masterpiece, focus on creating a new Masterpiece of your own.

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