Nell Minow
Corporate Governance expert, 'Movie Mom'

Nell Minow

Editor of The Corporate Library, and 'Movie Mom' for and radio stations across the country.


Sustaining success

Q: In his first six days in the major leagues, the Nationals' Danny Espinosa blasted three home runs, including a grand slam. Do you find that your biggest successes come in big bursts, or as the result of slow and steady progress? Is success more about "base hits," or "home runs"?

The biggest successes come in retrospect. Success is easier to see in looking back than it is to feel in the moment. If you stop to ask yourself why everything is working so well today, or, worse, to congratulate yourself on figuring it all out, you risk losing everything you are trying to accomplish.

There are small triumphs along the way and sometimes they feel pretty big. You can finish a big project or win a prize or make some money or cross some other finish line, and you can and should celebrate those achievements. And, like Danny Espinosa, sometimes all of the work you have put in comes together and the stars align and you find yourself briefly invincible. Fans love it, but the real stars know how ephemeral and dangerous it is to take that seriously.

The great corporate catastrophes like Enron, WorldCom, General Motors, and the Wall Street meltdown, all came from great success stories that lulled executives into thinking they know how to make it work.

Instead of holding on to the qualities that made them successful -- innovation, execution, integrity, an appetite for risk, compensation that clearly communicated the goal of sustainable growth -- their very success made them panic. Like an athlete on a lucky streak who won't change his socks because they might be the reason he is doing so well, they held on to the wrong elements of performance. They became arrogant. They became bureaucratic, sclerotic, flabby, afraid of change and challenge. And that is the best way I know to guarantee failure.

Those companies were like Wile E. Coyote, running so fast to catch the Road Runner he did not look where he was going until he ran right off a cliff, suspended for a moment in the air by his own need to believe he was still on the ground, but then plummeting into the canyon. Unlike Wile E., however, they do not find it so easy to get back to the chase. It is easier to become successful than it is to stay successful.

By Nell Minow  |  September 13, 2010; 12:42 AM ET  | Category:  Success: fast or slow? Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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