History is littered with examples of once-storied brands which demonstrated Successful Complacence to perfection. One striking example that comes to mind is Kodak, once King of Photography. By 1976, the “Kodak Moment” had captured 90% of film sales and 85% of camera sales; they were riding high. In 1975, the company developed the very first digital camera, yet dropped the project out of fear that it would threaten their photographic film business.
Successful Complacence took hold within Kodak and the company entered a period of decline that culminated in their 2012 bankruptcy filing. At one point shortly before the collapse, Kodak even resorted to patent litigation to generate revenue; the once progressive company had hardened into a defensive posture. As a result of its bankruptcy reorganization, Kodak ended up selling its digital technology patents to other, more progressive technology companies; the company emerged from bankruptcy as a mere shadow of itself.
You may wonder how the trials of a huge technology company can possibly relate to your service business; there is more similarity than you might think. It’s not the industry, the product, or the service that makes the difference; it’s the mindset. Once an organization ‘settles’ for the status quo, it effectively adopts Successful Complacence as a strategy and becomes a competitive target.
So, what can leaders do to combat Successful Complacence? Three things come to mind:
- Read. By reading industry publications, you can stay abreast of industry trends and technological developments. Biographies of people who’ve been there and done that are wonderful sources of inspiration. “How-to” books can open our minds to new ways of thinking. Even reading novels brings new perspectives, ideas and stories to life in a way that helps us view our own work differently.
- Explore. The view from your porch seldom changes (seeing-comes-from-seeking). When you make a conscious effort get away from your day-to-day and take in a new view, you’ll see your own business differently. From Webinars, to Trade Fairs, to Peer Groups, to visits with (friendly) competitors, inspiration is all around us. But it’s up to you to seek it out.
- Experiment. Take what you learn from reading and exploring and proactively find ways to incorporate those ideas in your work. Try new things. Utilize technology as both a facilitator and accelerator. Instead of committees, form “Task Forces” to tackle new challenges (committee-or-task-force) by doing more than just talk about them. The risk of doing nothing far outweighs any execution risk associated with thoughtful experimentation.