My friend Lisa is fascinated by the self-cleaning oven. In principle, it takes care of itself, an ongoing cycle of productivity. One button gets it dirty, then another button cleans it right up. Even better, consider the camera that cleans its sensor every time it's turned on.
Relationships, processes, interactions–these can be self cleaning too, if we build them that way.
Instead of waiting for things to degrade or even to break, we build in a cycle of honesty, a tradition of check-ins. Instead of a strategy that includes [and then an emergency happens/and then a miracle happens] as a key steps, we have a process in which growth fuels more growth, where satisfaction leads to more satisfaction.
The interstate highway system will continue to degrade until it falls apart, because infrastructure funding and repair wasn't built into it from the start. On the other hand, a company that earmarks a big part of its sales commissions and profits to ongoing customer support probably won't have to overspend when a crisis hits.
Self-cleaning systems don't careen until they hit a crisis point, because they're designed from the start to be in sync, the process itself avoids the crisis.
It's neither obvious nor easy to build a system that's self cleaning. It requires addressing problems before they show up, and putting in place the (apparently distracting and expensive) cycles necessary to keep them from showing up in the first place.