Scott’s Thoughts: Conquering Complacency

“Change before you have to.”

-Jack Welch, American business executive (former CEO of General Electric).

Feet up, relaxing.Are things are going well? Watch out! You’re at your most vulnerable.

When nothing’s working, you’ll try just about anything to succeed. When everything’s working, there’s a powerful urge to change nothing. But the wisdom of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” only works for so long. The wheel turns, and if you’re not careful, complacency can catch up with you.

Success sometimes breeds blindness. While there may be areas of your business you feel you have perfected, the “merely good” has a tendency to cloak where improvements can be made. Small problems can even become “acceptable costs.” Unfortunately, the underlying conditions which may be foundational to your success can change while you’re comfortable.

There’s every reason to celebrate your success. You worked hard for it, right? But to let your guard down will only make you more vulnerable in the long run. To fend off complacency, nurture a little healthy paranoia now and again. Ask yourself:

1. What one major change could upend or destroy the bedrock of your success, however unlikely that major change may be? (Take the mortgage interest tax deduction, for example.)

2. What comments sting? When someone expresses dissatisfaction with you or your business, which complaints get under your skin the most? (These may be little threads you can start pulling to see how the whole sweater might come apart.)

3. If you were advising competitors to attack your business, where would you tell them to focus? (How would you outperform… you?)

4. What don’t you understand about your success? Do you know why things are going well? It stands to reason that if you don’t, you might not know what could make them go south.

5. What’s the plan if the bottom drops out? We’ve all seen situations where people (including bankers and stock traders) fall prey to the delusion that good times will last forever. Walk through disaster scenarios. What would be your first move in the wake of a collapse? How are you preparing for harder times?

There’s no need to be excessively negative about these questions. They merely provide a healthy dose of reality to balance the dream. There will always be fluctuating market conditions, hungry competitors, and evolution in the industry. Keep them in mind and you’ll keep complacency at bay.

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