The reward for winning is the perception that you’ve won. In your celebration of your awesomeness, you are no longer focused on the finish line, you now lack a clear next goal, and while you sit there comfortably monetizing eyeballs, you’re becoming strategically dull.
That’s the money quote from one of the best things I read on the web last year, “Someone is Coming to Eat You,” by writer and software engineer Michael Lopp. Go ahead and give it a click-n-read. It’s brief, thought provoking, and a real kick in the chops to keep pushing ahead.
The article speaks to a question I’ve been obsessed with since we hatched the plan to start Myriad Media in the spring of 1993: How does a business maintain its success over a long period of time, and not fade into irrelevance? Like those roadside groceries I find so hauntingly charming while on trips down NC HWY 17 to the Outer Banks—how did these once-thriving community centers end up with withered paint and locked doors? At what moment did it become obvious to the proprietors—who had put their heart and souls into it—that the end was nigh? I picture difficult conversations with spouses over fried chicken dinners, detailing the rocky path ahead.
I’m curious about this, because it keeps me humble, and focused on building something of value that will stand the test of time. Myriad Media has never been a company that’s simply about its owners’ near-term success. Rather, our goal has always been to build something that our people (employees, vendors, and customers) can consistently rely on, preferably over generations. My favorite metaphor is an ever-fresh community wellspring.
Of course, it’s complicated, and there’s no singular reason for business atrophy. However, I think Lopp is on target when he says, “you are no longer focused on the finish line.” Success creates confidence—sometimes mixed with a dash of complacency—and that’s where the crack in the foundation starts. Microsoft is a stellar example. I love Balmer’s deliciously haughty take on the original iPhone’s potential. It’s a gem:
Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter)… There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.
These days, Microsoft is a dismissed bit player in the industry of the present and future, while Apple is its most profitable.
To illustrate the way innovation should be done, Lopp points to Steve Jobs’ decision to kill off the iPod Mini—while it was the most successful MP3 player in the world. In a crazy bit of audacity, Jobs simultaneously announced the iPod Nano, put it on sale, and pulled the Mini from shelves. No easy glide, no milking the product line, and certainly no celebration of awesomeness.
Jobs once said, “If anybody’s going to make our products obsolete, I want it to be us.” It could be a service, maybe an internal process, or piece of workhorse equipment long ago paid off, but the logic is the same: Don’t over-celebrate your success; rather, use it as kindling for your higher goals. That’s bold, brutally honest thinking, and a great guide to building a business that will, indeed, last generations.
If interested further: