rethinking success

Happy New Year!

Did you start 2010 with a fresh set of objectives?

Grow profits; drive revenues; increase the margin.

Do you have any objectives that aren’t about making more money than you made in 2009?

Defining success

When it comes to measuring success, we often make comparisons to the past.

Companies look at how profits changed relative to previous periods.

Individuals might compare their earnings to previous roles.

Even charities look at the changes in donations received.

By most definitions, we haven’t succeeded unless we’ve grown, and in business, this invariably relates to financial growth.

Indeed, financial growth is often a business’s primary objective, to the extent that any gains are reinvested to generate yet more growth in the next period.

But why are we so obsessed with growth?

Growth vs. greed

In nature, the drive to grow is instinctive: we need to reach a certain size to survive and procreate.

However, unrestrained growth brings dangerous consequences: excess leads to obesity, slowing us down and compromising our health.

In the good times, this doesn’t matter too much, because there’s enough to go round.

But, eventually, excess becomes unsustainable: over-consumption results in scarcity of resources and intense competition.

When this happens, the obese are most at risk: their size makes it harder for them to secure food and escape predators.

They face a stark choice: redress the balance, or die.

Survival of the fittest

This pattern is obvious in nature, but we often miss the parallel in business.

However, just like animals, brands can’t continue to grow indefinitely: eventually, they either reach a healthy equilibrium, or they exhaust all the available resources and die.

Faced with that choice, the decision seems simple.

Sometimes, though, scarcity occurs quite suddenly.

Just a few years ago, newspapers were enjoying those ‘good times’.

Then, out of nowhere, a fitter species appeared and gobbled up all their resources.

Sadly, the newspapers were too obese – too complacent, too cumbersome, too bloated – to react in time.

Now they’re starving, on the brink of extinction.

Their demise holds a lesson for us all.

Fit for purpose

The trick to avoiding newspapers’ fate is stay fit and healthy.

One way to do this is to avoid excessive growth.

So, if your objectives for year ahead are based purely on growth, challenge them.

What’s all that growth for?

And what will you do when you achieve it?

All too often, the euphoria of achieving a growth goal quickly gives way to a desire to outdo yourself again.

It becomes a never-ending cycle; increasing the number becomes the only thing that matters.

But there’s got to be more to life than numbers.

We need to remember the real benefits that growth was supposed to bring.

What would success look like if you couldn’t grow anymore?

Better, not bigger

Most New Year’s resolutions relate to health and fitness.

Perhaps it’s time we set similar business resolutions too.

I’d like to start the year with a challenge:

Why not set one objective for 2010 that has nothing to do with financial growth?

How about play rises instead of pay rises? More time to do the things that feed your souls, not just your bank balances (think Google’s 20%).

Perhaps you could initiate pro bono work for issues you really care about? Rather than waiting for someone to ask you, just get on and do it.

Or, why not take on an intern and actually help them to learn useful skills? With a bit of guidance, enthusiastic graduates can do much more than just make coffee and photocopies, and you’ll feel rewarded too.

Whatever you decide, one thing will make achieving your goal easier:

Stop measuring your success by comparing yourself to others.

Innovate, don’t imitate.

It’s much easier to succeed when you write your own rules.

Good luck, and best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2010!

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3 Responses to “rethinking success”


  1. 1 phil January 8, 2010 at 20:38

    one of the things i learned is “being big is not a strategy”. i learned this from one of the few great brand managers i have encountered in my career; he was with a leading beer brand in Asia. his brand dominated the markets that it was in – perhaps accounting for 70% of sales volume on average. it was the de facto beer brand.

    i asked him – during one of our beer drinking sessions – what kept him awake at night as a marketeer.

    he said “we are too big. we are so big that we are the category. that’s problematic because one, we have to keep it that way. being the biggest means we have more to lose whilst our competitors have lots to gain. the pressure to stay the biggest is on us. two, because we are so big, we are becoming commoditized as a brand – when people think beer, the brand comes to mind. we’re good with that. but when we ask what the brand stands for, it simply is that: a beer. nothing else. and three, we are so big that the marketing team is becoming more and more complacent and reliant on this bigness. ‘just advertise’ – that’s the mantra. ‘just create ads, promos… just keep the retailers happy.’ size is not a strategy. strategy perhaps brought us here – but we can’t use it as a strategy.’


  1. 1 just did it « eskimon Trackback on December 15, 2010 at 16:35

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