The Swiss have been making excellent watches and clocks since the middle of the 16th century. They truly invented many of the time keeping gadgets we take for granted, including the wristwatch, water resistant watches and of course, in 1967 the first quartz watch.
In 1967 the Swiss didn’t just have the only quartz watch, they also had close to a 90% share of the world’s watch market. This apparently made them somewhat slow to see the potential of this new technology. (Nothing clouds our vision like centuries of success.)
Other countries, Japan for instance, didn’t have much share of the watch market and jumped on the idea of the quartz watch. The market turned very quickly on the Swiss and the Swiss watch industry was moribund by the middle of the 1970s. It’s been only the last decade or so that the Swiss have begun to reclaim their place as the one of the world’s leading producers of timepieces.
The Swiss have always produced the best timepieces, they didn’t lose that skill and the incredible quality of their products was never in question. So what happened?
The Swiss simply believed that their future would be an extension of their past. They believed that their nearly endless run of past success would lead to future success merely by default.
In short, they read their press clippings.
There are many ways that leaders can fail but none is as easy as assuming that you cannot fail. Believing somehow that because you’ve been right before you can’t be wrong the next time. Believing somehow that yesterday’s effort will carry you through today. Believing that the competition is so far behind that they will never catch up. Believing that you will always be the best just because you are the best today.
Authentic leaders know that their past success is only an indicator that future success is possible. They also know that the minute they stop doing the things that made them a success their success begins to fade.
The Swiss watch industry provides us with two valuable lessons: anyone can lose their leadership position and anyone can regain it.
If we always remember the first one, the odds of needing the second one goes way, way down.