Primum Non Nocere

Often cited as a key tenet in the Hippocratic Oath, primun non nocere is translated as “first, do no harm”. It is one of the great supporting ideas of both ancient and modern medicine: sometimes it is better to do nothing than it is to do something and risk harm to the patient.

Primun non nocere has applicability in our interconnected worlds and industries. In a rush to innovate/disintermediate/cannibalize existing markets and products, if we don’t consider how our efforts impact the final customer experience, we run the risk of doing harm.  I think the great comic Steven Wright captured how mysterious and interconnected the world is – delivered in his signature deadpan tone of voice:

“In my house there’s this light switch that doesn’t do anything. Every so often I would flick it on and off just to check. Yesterday, I got a call from a woman in Madagascar. She said, ‘Cut it out.’”

In my career I have worked with a financial brand that you almost certainly use. They are enormous. They make billions of dollars in their sleep. And they know they have a great position, so I have often heard people from this company repeat the following mantra, which I’m sure is beaten into their heads during new employee orientation: “defend the castle”. They are primarily worried about doing no harm, but that concept isn’t reserved only for behemoths.

Clayton Christensen and others have pointed out the challenge of castle defending in markets where attackers nibble their way up from the bottom.  And I certainly have written a great deal on the importance of innovation and working smart.

But if you have customers, and they’re depending upon your product or service to deliver a great experience, primun non nocere is a great idea to consider as you’re designing the next “big thing” you’re thinking about.

We don’t want our doctors to operate on us based upon whims.  Similarly, our customers want us to invest the same care in our own efforts. They want us to deliver on the jobs they hired us to do: delivering on our brand promise and product commitment and make them look good in the process.

Easy to say. Hard to do.

Good luck!