Shafeen Charania makes an intriguing suggestion--that the best predictor of our future failure is our past successes. His premise is that when we've found a course of action that proves successful, we are more likely to become wedded to it. We then resist changing our approach, even when circumstances have changed.
This is related, of course, to the tyranny of dead ideas. But there's a twist. In Shafeen's formulation, we're invited to anticipate that our past success will predispose us to future failure. This means we have the opportunity to build into our processes those strategies that can help us avoid resting on our laurels.
On an organizational level, Shafeen has a few suggestions for doing this:
One approach to helping companies stay open to new ideas, while making sure they extract maximum return from existing events, might tie back to that blog entry Size Does Matter.
What if there was also a policy that once a successful business line in
the main company hit a certain profitability and had achieved a
specified return (say 200% of the original investment), it was required
to spin off 20% of its employees and fund that "start-up" with 5% of
the profits for 2-3 years? The start-up is charged with beating the
incumbent and taking down the mother-ship. If after those 2-3 years
there are no promising results, the start-up is on its own. But if it
succeeded, the parent company would have a choice of bringing them back
in-house, or sticking to the program as defined in Size Does Matter, and creating a whole new revenue stream, while milking the last drop out of their cash cow.
Individually, we can take action too. We can engage in ongoing reflective practice, which provides us with a framework for examining our assumptions. This is a necessary and critical component of any individual plan to avoid being imprisoned by our success.
We can conduct regular After Action Reviews. These, too, provide a structure for reflection and evaluation and allow us to see where we should and shouldn't consider other alternatives.
One of the dangers of success is that it can lead to "When all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail" syndrome. I see this with new users of social media, for example, who, enamored of the benefits of blogging or wikis or Twitter, suddenly see a social media solution to every individual or organizational issue.
While applying new ideas or tools or approaches in different realms can be a great strategy, we should do so with a spirit of inquiry, rather than with the belief that it "should" work. This is where we need to develop the habit of engaging in personal learning experiments , regularly engaging ourselves in asking questions and testing our ideas.
Being aware that in our past successes lie the seeds of our future failures gives us a tremendous opportunity to avoid this fate.
Is this something you think about? What have you done to make sure you don't cling to outmoded approaches when circumstances have changed?