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Paranoia may have helped Lisa Murkowski

It was former Intel CEO Andy Grove who famously said "only the paranoid survive." But Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski would have done well to remember that wisdom in her Alaska primary race.

The dominant storyline today on the news that Murkowski is trailing her opponent Joe Miller in a race too close to call will surely be that Miller won because of Sarah Palin. Miller, who had the support of Tea Party activists and an endorsement from Palin, was seen as a long shot as recently as yesterday.

But that's only part of the story.

As the Post's Chris Cillizza writes, Murkowski blew it because she seemed "largely unconcerned" about Miller's challenge. Though she was encouraged by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to produce attack ads against Miller, she rejected the advice, Cillizza writes. By not defining Miller early in the race, she "gave away her biggest advantage: money." The difference in campaign war chests was staggering: As of Aug. 4, Murkowski reported $1.86 million; Miller had just $84,000.

Overconfidence is a natural affliction of existing leaders. Those already in power believe they can win on their records, and that voters have better memories than they really do. They are fooled by their own success, overly assured about their position, and fall victim to that unfortunate byproduct of power: hubris.

When Andy Grove uttered these words, which are also the title of a management guide he penned, he was talking about corporate strategy, competitive product positioning, and disruptive innovation. Although he does not remember when he first said it, this motto, now a favorite in corporate boardrooms, is often attributed to Intel's move into microprocessors after the Japanese got into building memory chips in the mid-1980s, an "inflection point so overwhelming," he says, that it forced them to change their business in a direction that has helped it remain successful to this day. "When it comes to business," Grove writes, "I believe in the value of paranoia. Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. The more successful you are, the more people want a chunk of your business."

(More from PostLeadership, Reining in CEO pay, finally)

The same could be said of political leaders. Those who've had success sew the seeds of their own destruction, and those who aren't concerned enough about the security of their position are ripe for a stumble.

There is a great deal of speculation that rising dissatisfaction with our current leaders, a foreboding sense that the country is going in the wrong direction, and growing power among splinter groups such as the Tea Party spell trouble for incumbents during this election season. While all those factors may play a role, so does the overconfident leadership mindset. As many incumbents are sure to learn in November, only the paranoid survive.

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By Jena McGregor

 |  August 25, 2010; 10:43 AM ET |  Category:  Corporate leadership , Government leadership , Leadership , Public leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It interests me that Lisa Murkowski didn't feel she had anything to learn from the lower 48 states, or from the fate of Martha Coakley in particular. (One could also add H. Clinton's nomination race here.) I think the Andy Grove analysis is spot on.

Posted by: elizh1 | August 27, 2010 1:18 PM

For those who truly preface their political votes and actions in order to save the U.S. from 'socialist' democrats or to resist 'moderation' which thereby strengthens those same 'socialists,' I'd strongly suggest putting down the kool aid for a moment and taking a junior high civics course. To start, it might be helpful to read Timothy Eagan's recent commentary in the New York Times called "Building a Nation of Know-Nothings." The URL is below.


Posted by: DrLou1 | August 27, 2010 10:26 AM

Lisa Murkowski was a "moderate" republican that frequently voted with the socialist/democrats. That is why she is history. Moderation of any kind with socialists destroys the original fabric of our nation.

Posted by: GOTBRAIN | August 27, 2010 12:10 AM

ignoring the anal-retentive comments here, she didn't lose because she wasn't paranoid *enough*. She lost because the voters preferred her opponent.

Any comments beyond that are mere speculation. Obviously IF she wasn't paranoid enough then yes she lost because she wasn't paranoid enough. But you are begging the question to say that she lost BECAUSE she wasn't paranoid enough.

It may seem that way to you...that may be a good explanation for the facts, in your opinion...but until you can repeat the election, you can't know that for sure. It's just a hypothesis. Logic: it's an interesting, useful concept. You should read up on it.

Posted by: tokenwhitemale | August 27, 2010 12:04 AM

This article is very poorly written. The headline and the second sentence are both examples of sloppy grammar. The rest of the article isn't much better. Political leaders "sew" the seeds of their own destruction? Wow. Ms. McGregor needs to take a few remedial composition courses. Her posts read like those of a high school freshman.

Posted by: gmhniner | August 26, 2010 8:37 PM

Hubris and a sense of entitlement will bring down Murkowski.

Posted by: pepperjade | August 26, 2010 6:48 PM

So political and business "Leadership" is now improved by a healthy dose of paranoia? Just when you think American culture has hit rock bottom - an article like this comes along.

So Murkowski should have spent part of her $1.86 million on attack ads? And the Alaskan electorate are backwoods yahoos that respond like Pavlovs' dogs?

What's next? An article praising Stalin and Mao for their leadership skills? They knew how to deal with rivals - and it wasn't attack ads.

Posted by: shadowmagician | August 26, 2010 6:09 PM

...hey, let's just listen to Palin and the failed GOP, and go back to cut taxes / cut govt that we tried for the 3 decades of the Reagan/Bush era. In fact, let's get ANOTHER big tax cut to the wealthiest as we did in 1981 and 2001.

I mean, that worked SO well to deliver Trickle Down prosperity. Almost nobody is unemployed now. And the banks and oil companies and health insurers, heck - they POLICED THEMSELVES!!! Get government out of the WAY by golly!

Abe Lincoln would have said;
"You can fool some of the people, ALL of the time"... ;^)

- Balkingpoints / www

Posted by: RField7 | August 26, 2010 5:51 PM

Not only do many think the public regard them as their benefactors, many think they are entitled to that estimation. Ergo, the "Kennedy seat". See also Angelo Codevilla. The liberal-as-hero mindset is alive and well in both parties.

Posted by: chatard | August 25, 2010 5:48 PM

If I understand you correctly, you're saying that Murkowski wasn't paranoid, but she should have been. In that case, your headline should read, "Paranoia might have helped Lisa Murkowski," not "may have." It may seem a small difference, but it's one that changes the meaning of the phrase in which it's used, and it's amazing how many people get it wrong even in print these days.

Posted by: bucephalina | August 25, 2010 3:15 PM

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