April 14, 2015
Excerpts: Exceptionalize It!
An updated version of his most popular book, Exceptionalize It!, is now available. The excerpt below comes from the chapter "Success."
The Success Trap
The most dangerous part of every business is success. Success breeds complacency. Success turns you from a ready-to-delight person to a ready-to-enjoy person. You treat success as “cash-out time” and that’s when you start slipping. That’s when you begin to take things for granted and assume you’ve discovered an eternal formula for success. In reality, your competitors are already working on plans to topple your success. They noticed it, they’re copying it, and they’re trying to do it better and bolder than you. While you enjoy a celebratory glass of champagne they’re working on your demise.
Success transforms your mind-set. It makes you believe in your success as a guarantee for the future. There are no guarantees. The success trap is the attempt to continue to do what worked in the past and not evolve. It’s the loss of hunger; succumbing to incremental corrections as opposed to bolder exceptionalism. For a period of time, your success formula will carry you. You will repeat the past and customers will pay for it. But, eventually, they will get bored. Your competitors will reinvent themselves and you will still be repeating the past.
Beware of the success trap. Do not fall into the calming assumption that past success is an indication of the future. Go on the offensive and search for the next bold thing that will surprise your customers.
Success is a trap. Past success is not a guaranteed formula for the future.
Number One Is a One-Time Achievement
Here you are. You’ve made it. You climbed the business version of Everest and you reached the peak, the view is amazing. Now what? Once organizations strive to be number one and achieve their goal, they discover a simple truth: they have nothing more to strive for. So, they switch to a defensive strategy to retain the position.
Smart organizations don’t set a single-peak goal like being number one. They design a multi-peak goal that will challenge them in the future. They focus on being a pioneer, not a number one player. Number one players compare themselves to their mediocre competitors. Pioneers compare themselves against their future and new possibilities. Pioneers challenge themselves; they don’t wait for their competitors to present a threat. Pioneers are those who chart a new path, beyond one charted by the traditional competition. They define their own road to continued and greater success.
Pioneer a new path. Don’t accept number one as the place to be.
Remember Circuit City? Pan Am? Borders Books? Blockbuster? When you think about them, what is the first word that comes to mind? Failure? Think again.
They were very successful companies. They redefined their industry and, during their time, were the beacon of innovation and customer engagement. They were exceptional once, but then they lost it. Was it overnight failure? No. They continued to ride on the wings of inertia and initial success until they discovered they were no longer relevant to consumers.
There is a big difference between success and sustainable success. While success is the enjoyment of the fruits of your labor, sustainable success is the paranoia of seeking the next WHILE being successful. It is difficult to do, as you can tell by the history of the aforementioned companies and many like them. While you are in the midst of success you are busy and happy and all of your focus is on executing well.
But while you are busy with success, someone else is busy redefining it through some breakthrough experience that will excite customers again. Developing sustainable success means being the best executioner of your current formula for success while assuming the willingness to cannibalize it in order to stay relevant and exciting. It is being the builder and the destroyer at the same time. It sounds contradictory, but it’s not.
In the fast-paced world in which we operate–where the window of opportunity to be relevant and exceptional is constantly shrinking–you must develop a sustainable success model. Consider the alternative. If you won’t cannibalize your business in the name of customer excitement and exceptional value, someone else will. Wouldn’t you rather it be you?
Do you have the courage to challenge and redefine your success?
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.