Don’t be a victim of your own success

It’s no great secret that we all seek success and hide from failure but what often escapes our notice are the potential pitfalls that lie, obscured from view, like a dormant beast lurking in the shadows of our own success. You may ask, “But what could wrong if my business far exceeded expectations upon launch?” or “If I’ve been doing this for years and so far so good – what do I have to worry about?”

It’s time to think about the future of industries that have traditionally always been healthy yet now find themselves under threat. What will happen to boxed cereals or “pan dulce” in households where mothers are beginning to become more aware of the dangers of sugar to the health of their children? What’s going to happen to the auto parts industry with the commercialization of 3D printing technology? The danger lies in the assumption that past sales will always equate to future ones.

There are three early warning signs to look out for when assessing whether or not you may fall victim to your own success.

a)Rapid Evolution. In todays market place the urgent desire for rapid growth often outweighs sustainable or incremental growth. When things go very well, very quickly, it can be difficult to fulfil the increase in demand caused by such sudden success.

b)Inertia. Allowing ourselves to become trapped in a spiral of daily tasks and work just to fulfil demand, leaves little room for reflection. If fulfilling demand consumes all of our energy and daily thought; then it’s harder to see what’s on the horizon and to adapt to future challenges brought about by a changing market place.

c)The potential problems that can arise from an inflation of the ego. Allowing oneself to feel superior to the competition and immune from threat due to a market position as leader can be dangerous territory. We begin to lose focus on the things that got us to where we are today – innovation, better products and services and customer service.

So how can we avoid it?

1. By knowing one’s self. For the Greeks, the importance of self-knowledge was regarded as more important than taking care of oneself. There are many ways of exercising this ancient belief: Regularly carrying out introspective analysis exercises, evaluating ourselves at the end of each day, future scenario modelling exercises where we map out best and worst case scenarios for our companies, all help to prevent situations like what happened to Vine (which ended up being liquidated by parent Instagram). In their case they failed to detail an effective business model set against the needs of their consumers, without any human-centred design planning or a way to monetize their product, the once massive brand ended up on the scrap heap. [2]

2. By surrounding ourselves with honest partners who aren’t afraid to tell us the truth, and by being open to listening to them. Finding trusted people who can act as mirrors we can use to hold up against ourselves, and reflect back things about who are, whilst potentially a painful exercise, will ensure we remain grounded in reality. At Nokia, they did not promote a culture of transparency and communication within the executive structure. This eventually led to disaster when those lower down the chain of command didn’t inform those above them of huge delays in the development of the operating system, causing chaos when orders were met [3]. Had they promoted better communication they may have been able to manage expectations and prevent embarrassment, rather than sleep walking into disaster.

3. This last example leads nicely onto our third recommendation, that is, ensuring to promote fluidity and transparency within the organizational structure of a company. Migrating to a model where those at the top have a greater grasp of operations below them, and where those below feel able, and have the means to, communicate issues with those above them does three great things for you: It ensures a healthier operation all the way through the business, it equips a business to deal and react to change and it help prevents disasters in the long term.

 

References:

  1. Focault, Michael. (1990) Tecnologías del Yo. Paidós. España.
  2. Newton, Casey (2016) Why Vine died. The Verge. Retrieved from: http://www.theverge.com/2016/10/28/13456208/why-vine-died-twitter-shutdown
  3. Huy, Quy (2015) Who killed Nokia? Nokia did. Insead. Retrieved from: http://knowledge.insead.edu/strategy/who-killed-nokia-nokia-did-4268