The “made it” syndrome

The “made it” syndrome

It seems to be a recurring theme for my thoughts recently: Failure is an option. Failure is an option. Failure IS an option.

A huge direct competitor of ours closed it’s doors over night two weeks ago. About 5 times our size, they were open on Thursday and closed on Friday. Stunned is how we felt when we talked about what might have ultimately lead to their demise. What underpinned our entire discussion was the reality that none of us are ever immune from the ship going under no matter how high we’ve climbed or how far we’ve raced.

In 2008, Jim Keyes, then CEO of soon to be doomed national brand Blockbuster, was quoted in an interview as saying, “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,” he said. “It’s more Wal-Mart and Apple.”

5 Years later, 1000 locations were closed, and Blockbuster was history.

While I wasn’t close to that deal and do not know Jim Keyes, an outsiders perspective could say that it seems Jim may have fallen in to the lurking quagmire that is the “made it” syndrome.

As any business owner will understand, when you’ve worked, and slaved, and fought to grow a business from nothing to something – from a place where every day you’re hoping something doesn’t happen that closes you down to a place where you know that even if you lost 20% of sales you’d still have the doors open – it can be painfully easy to fall in to deception that you’ve “made it”.

You’ve “made it” – you’re there! You’re successful! Nothing can take you down now! You’ve got a rockstar brand, people love your product, you’ve got solid processes in place, reliable income, employees, a leg up on your competitors – you can breath easier.

Well here’s the giant slap in the face (and what we preach to ourselves constantly): You’ve never made it.

I don’t care if you are doing a million in sales or 100 billion in sales – capsizing and bringing the whole ship to the ocean floor is still an option on the table.

The proof is littered through history. Consider Apple who almost went under before Jobs came back and righted the ship. Consider Circuit City – a once national main stay for electronics, now a sore spot for DirecTV’s investors. Or consider Polaroid – how does a company who was the industry leader in innovation for the photographer industry close it’s doors because the photography industry changed and left them in the dust?

Humbly I submit they fell in to the “made it” syndrome (among other errors of course). Somewhere along the way, in the midst of the expansions, huge increases in sells, executive retreats and media applause, the team at the helm lost it.

They got comfortable.

What happened after they got comfortable? They got on the defensive. They started focusing on preserving instead of ever-evolving, growing, changing, improving.

They stopped taking risks – stopped looking at the bigger picture – being hungry/driven to be the one at the leading edge of innovation and growth. How else would the leader in photography equipment go from photo-stud to closing for good?

So what’s the point? What’s the moral?

Stay hungry or accept inevitable failure. Don’t fall in to the “made it” syndrome.

Don’t make it. Keep making it. Every. Single. Day.

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