Beware Success

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Last week, Business Week ran great piece on Toyota that included the following lead: “Akio Toyoda thinks he knows what’s wrong with Toyota, the world’s biggest car maker. Success has made it cocky.”

“Cocky” is a good word. A milder word might be “overconfident.” “Arrogance” would be a little stronger. It’s a bad thing.

Pride is one of the Roman Catholic Church’s seven deadly sins.

The Bible warns that “Pride goes before destruction.” (Proverbs 16:18)

In Greek drama, Hubris is followed by Nemesis.

Remember General Motors? Before it was a welfare recipient, it was a car company. Supposedly GM had cracked the code of good management. When Peter Drucker wrote The Concept of the Corporation, the “corporation” was General Motors.

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea company was another company that looked like it would never get in trouble. In its day, people wrote articles about it that sound very much like the ones they write about Wal-Mart today.

IBM, Bethlehem Steel, and Goldman, Sachs looked like they had figured it out. Hardly anyone predicted that they would fall on hard times.

It’s human nature, I think. When you’re really successful for a while, it’s easy to believe that the laws of nature, human nature, and economics don’t apply to you. You lose your discipline, stop concentrating on the things that brought you success, and start believing your own press clippings.

Because you’re reading about how good you are, you don’t notice when little things start to go wrong. You don’t pay attention to the details. And, suddenly it seems, you’re in trouble.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Whether it’s your company or your team, the time when you’re most likely to start the downward slide is the time when you’re sure that success will go on forever. It won’t. You’ll be rewarded with success as long as you do the things to earn it. When you stop doing them, the laws of nature, human nature and economics will be there waiting.

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