Good to Great to . . . Stupid?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On January 10, 2013

There is an inherent danger that faces business people who aspire to greatness. And that danger is success. That may sound heretical to those of us we passionately pursue things to make ourselves and our companies better. After all, isn’t success what we’re after in all of our striving to move from merely good companies to great companies?

Perhaps I’d better clarify that success itself is not really what’s dangerous. It’s what sometimes accompanies success that presents the problem. What sometimes happens when we get a little success is that we think we’re pretty smart—and that can be stupid for leaders and for their businesses.

I see it happen from time to time—particularly with entrepreneurial companies. Entrepreneurs often sail through uncharted business waters. They’re trying things for which there is no precedent. And that can make it a little tough to quantify their success. Maybe they have a good idea. And maybe their execution is good as well. But they want to take things to the next level. They want to be great.

So they work on becoming outstanding leaders. They pay attention to “getting the right people on the bus” and make great personnel decisions. They don’t shy away from uncomfortable facts. They take a disciplined approach to their business. And they take advantage of technology that can accelerate their growth. All of these things are steps that great companies take (and if you think you recognize a lot of Jim Collins in there, you’re absolutely right!).

Unfortunately, when they achieve a little bit of success, they think they’ve got it figured out—and they stop doing some of the things that make them great. Sometimes discipline goes by the wayside because they’re busy “being successful.” And the real company crippler is when they stop learning.

If you’re involved in an entrepreneurial company that’s experiencing a modicum of success, stay alert! There are plenty of companies that started well, only to fail because their initial success wasn’t sustainable. Don’t let a little cash—or peoples’ lavish praise keep you from paying attention to the uncomfortable facts. And don’t stop learning about your industry, your customers, and your competitors.

If you want to be a great company, you’re still going to need to out-read, out-learn, out-think, and out-work your competitors. Celebrate your successes, but don’t let them blind you to the work that still needs to be done.