Where Future Success Comes From

Many otherwise successful companies have failed because they made one fatal mistake. They believed that their future was merely an extension of their past. 


They assumed that because they had always been successful they would continue to be successful. They convinced themselves that whatever they had done to achieve their success today would be the same thing they needed to do to maintain their success tomorrow. 


That may have almost been true decades and decades ago but it gets less true every year. Everything changes and one of the changes is that those changes are happening faster than ever before.


To assume that what got you to where you are will also keep you there is the kiss of death in business today. As most people who read this blog consistently know, I’m not always the biggest fan of change but I am a realist.


That’s why I am a huge fan of leaders who are visionaries. 


In 1968 the Swiss controlled virtually all of the wristwatch market around the world. They had an enormous percentage of the market share. They were as the saying goes, “on top of the world” when it came to making and selling watches. 


Then quartz watches were invented…by a couple of Swiss engineers. They showed it to company after company all across Switzerland and couldn’t find one interested buyer. No Swiss watch maker was interested, they didn’t need to be, they already “owned” the market. 


I guess you could say the leaders who ran those Swiss watch companies back then were not exactly visionary. I’d just say they made the fatal mistake of believing that their future was just an extension of their past. 


Funny thing is, these engineers were kind of persistent and they took their invention to some sort of watch convention to show it off. (I guess nobody told the engineers about that whole patent thing) Well a couple of Japanese watch makers came by and the rest is history… as was the Swiss dominance of the watch market. 


Today the Swiss have just a sliver of the world’s watch market, they still make perhaps the best watches but they make far far fewer of them. 


Visionary Leaders never, never stop looking for what’s next, they are relentless innovators. They have an almost insatiable need to constantly improve. A Visionary Leader doesn’t just say good enough is not good enough, they live it…and they lead it. 


Visionary Leaders reimagine what is until it becomes what’s next. While other people are enjoying the fruits of their labor Visionary Leaders are planting the seeds of tomorrow’s success. 


Your future doesn’t come from past accomplishments. What you’ve accomplished to date is just a starting point for what you need to accomplish to remain successful. 

Your future success will come from what you do today and tomorrow. The moment you think you’re where you need to be, you’re not there anymore. Never stop looking ahead because when you do you’re almost certain to fall behind. 

Can You Predict the Future?

Your future might be an extension of your past. Emphasis on might!

One of the key reasons that successful organizations and individuals eventually fail is that they assume their future is an extension of their past. They assume that because they are a success today that they always will be.

They take their foot off the gas, their eye off the ball and they decide, at least subconsciously, to leave the fundamentals to other, less successful people and organizations. They have already succeeded and they fall into the trap of thinking that fundamentals are for those still trying to succeed.

It’s the mistake of mistakes.

Today’s success merely gives you a head-start on tomorrow’s. It provides you with a foundation, a roadmap to future success, but it guarantees nothing.

It makes little difference how long you’ve known success, the moment you stop doing the things that made you a success is the same moment that your success begins to fade.

In 1968, Switzerland dominated the world of watchmaking as they had for the previous 60 years. They had more than 65% of the world unit sales and over 80% of the profits. They not only made the best watches in the world, they were continually improving them.

The Swiss were so far out in front in the watchmaking industry that no one was an obvious second.

Then, something shocking happened that laid waste to the Swiss Watch industry.

In less than 10 years, the advantage the Swiss watchmaking industry was built upon was demolished. Between 1979 and 1981, 50,000 of the 62,000 watchmakers in the country lost their jobs. Imagine a downturn so severe that 80% of the employees were gone in a matter of two years. That is an amazing but true statistic.

It was not that the Swiss were lazy, on the contrary, they were constantly innovating and improving their standards.

A paradigm shift occurred. One of the fundamental rules of watchmaking had been abolished.

Watchmaking shifted from mechanical to electronic.

In that one change, the entire competitive advantage of the Swiss watchmaking industry was lost.

The irony is that the Swiss were not only aware of this paradigm, they practically invented the technology that created the shift. In 1967, Swiss researchers invented and patented the electronic quartz movement. Yet, when the idea was presented to the Swiss manufacturers it was rejected.

While it is not certain specifically why the new watch was rejected, it was probably linked with the fact that it didn’t look like a watch. It didn’t need bearings, it required almost no gears, it was battery powered and it was electronic.

It simply couldn’t be the watch of the future because it had so little resemblance to the watches that already existed.

The entire Swiss watch industry assumed that their future was absolutely an extension of their past. They assumed that because of their long-term huge success that they would always be a long-term huge success.

You could say they got big headed and maybe a little arrogant. The problem is, big heads don’t think clearly and there is never a good time to be arrogant, even if you make the best watches in the world.

The lesson here is simple: when you take your success for granted your success won’t take you very far.

Never assume that a good today guarantees a good tomorrow. You may not be able to predict the future but that doesn’t mean that you cannot create it.

Create the future that you desire by keeping your head small and your mind open. Remember, your past success provides you with a roadmap to future success, not a promise. The best way to ensure your success is to continually earn it.

The Murderous Nature of The Status Quo

Are you a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of leader? Do you believe in “leaving well enough alone?” Have you ever looked at your organization, your team or your processes and said confidently “we’re good, no need to reinvent the wheel?”

Consider that last statement for a moment. Imagine if the wheel really had never been reinvented. History tells us that the first wheels were apparently made from stone. They were as round as they could make them but I’ve yet to see an image of a perfectly round wheel from the days of the first wheels.

Think about a brand new shiny car with GPS and bluetooth and all the comforts of home… with stone wheels. I’ll bet that would do a number on the gas mileage, not to mention how it could kill the drive though business at Starbucks. Can you imagine trying to drink a hot cup of coffee while riding around on “almost” round stone wheels.

Now aren’t we glad that somebody ignored the advice and actually did reinvent the wheel!

Nothing kills progress like the status quo. Leaders who are satisfied with the “as is” will never experience the accomplishment of achieving the “should be.” Authentic leaders are constantly looking for a better way. Their goal isn’t necessarily perfection; it’s simply to be better tomorrow than they are today. It has nothing to do with how good they are, even the best are always striving to be better.

Being better tomorrow than you are today will require change. Improvement and growth requires that someone or something change. The reason that some leaders get comfortable with the status quo is that change also comes with risk and some leaders will do anything to avoid risk.

The problem is that businesses that attempt to avoid all risks likely avoid continued success at the same time. Leaders of any type of organization who are too risk adverse lose the opportunity to achieve all that they could.

In their attempt to avoid risk and keep everything just as it is they almost guarantee that what they have they won’t have for long. If you disagree with that then just travel to Canada and talk with the well-meaning team at Blackberry. Blackberry, formerly known as Research in Motion, is the perfect case study of an organization hanging on to the “as is” at the expense of the “should be.”

The world today allows no person and no organization seeking continued success to sit still.  A business satisfied with the status quo most likely has stakeholders that aren’t satisfied at all.

As a leader it is imperative that you know that if you’re not moving up then you’re most assuredly moving down.

The status quo is a murderer; it kills progress while providing the illusion of comfort and success. Don’t however, attempt to hold the status quo accountable for the death of your success, the status quo means no harm, death is just it’s nature.

Leaders who consort with the status quo and hold it dear, well now, their accountability for the death of success is a whole different matter.

Why Leaders Fail

Why-your-past-success-is-hurting-your-future-successThe 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.