When Success Kills

fail sign


It’s great to be a success. Whether for a company or a person, winning has its rewards. And that is all well and good until the game changes. Then, ironically, the more used you are to winning, the less likely you are to succeed in times of change.

Some reasons why:

  • Habit: individuals and organizations just get used to doing things a certain way and processes can be slow to change, especially as bureaucracy builds up over time.
  • Optimization: diverting any resources or attention away from the winning play seems like a waste. If you’ve got the winning formula, then scale it up and go full speed in that direction.
  • Greed: especially for publicly traded companies the need to keep going back to the tree where the honey was last time is intense. Investigating other trees is a waste of time; just pull out all the honey you can from known hives.
  • Fear: past success gets comfortable and predictable. Trying something new is unpredictable and uncomfortable – you might fail.

This is why in times of disruptive change (which is just about all the time these days), the most successful incumbent players are often least able to adapt to the new game.

Interestingly, turning around these habits of success has almost nothing to do with acquiring new skills or building new businesses and everything to do with attitude and expectation. The attitudes and expectations of start-ups and incumbents are radically different.

So, how can incumbent players – people and groups – create places to foster new attitudes and ways of thinking? That is where the solution lies.

(For a great read on this and other problems of disruption, check out “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clay Christensen.

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by fireflythegreat

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