Don’t Let Success Breed Failure
At the recommendation of Jeff Sheldon, a few days ago I ordered Dale Partridge’s new book, People Over Profit. I’m half-way through, and the book is about so much more than running an honest and successful business.
Partridge’s book is about character, integrity, honesty, serving others, being transparent and generous, and investing in quality. People Over Profit is encouraging and thought provoking for anyone with a platform, an audience, an entrepreneurial spirit, and/or a role in leadership or management.
I’ve highlighted several passages and quotes so far, and a couple of them I want to write about today.
Here’s one of the first idea from the book that really struck me. Partridge writes:
All good companies must have some level of efficiency, which can be a tool to help achieve noble goals. But problems arise when efficiency becomes the goal — when it is no longer a means to an end but the end in itself.
The context here is that Partridge is talking about how most companies start out with honest values and goals, but as their business grows these companies seek ways to improve their efficiency and to keep growing.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking to improve efficiency and to keep growing. In fact, I touched on this recently when I wrote about value, price, cost, and profit. In order increase profit without decreasing value you have to either: (a) add more value; or (b) lower costs without sacrificing quality.
Increasing efficiency without losing value or quality is not so easy. But what Partridge had to say about efficiency becoming the main goal stood out to me on a personal level as well.
Take the same quote from above but replace “all good companies” with “any individual” and the text still rings true:
Any individual must have some level of efficiency, which can be a tool to help achieve noble goals. But problems arise when efficiency becomes the goal — when it is no longer a means to an end but the end in itself.
This past November I recorded a whole podcast episode on the issue of focusing too much on focus. The idea is that distractions and resistance are universal things we all face when trying to get things done. It’s important to know what to focus on, to be good at working through distractions, and to reduce to the essentials when it comes to projects and our environment. But it’s also possible (if not easy) to obsess so much on focus that we’re not even getting the most important things done because we’re too concerned about being efficient.
As a husband, a father, and as someone who makes things I would much rather move slowly in the right direction than quickly in the wrong direction.
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The second quote that stood out to me is actually a quote Partridge pulled from Jim Collins’s book, How the Mighty Fall.
Launching headlong into activities that do not fit with your economic or resource engine is undisciplined. Addiction to scale is undisciplined. To neglect your core business while you leap after exciting new adventures is undisciplined. To use the organization primarily as a vehicle to increase your own personal success—more wealth, more fame, more power—at the expense of its long-term success is undisciplined. To compromise your values or lose sight of your core purpose in pursuit of growth and expansion is undisciplined.
I’ve read so many times about how success for a company can be more deadly than failure. Because with success comes opportunity and options. Which, in the words of Jim Collins, can open the door for a company to loose discipline and focus.
When companies lose focus from doing their primary mission — doing what they are best at — then they slowly begin to lose ground.
And the same is true for individuals. When you or I lose focus on doing what is most important then we begin to drift.
They say 70% of lottery winners spend their entire winnings within 5 years of hitting jackpot and are oftentimes worse for wear afterward. They “finally” got their big break but it didn’t improve the quality of their life.
Another study I recently heard about discovered that people’s baseline level of happiness does not grow proportionally to their income. They said that after someone’s annual salary reaches $65,000 their general mood and happiness sort-of plateau relative to their income. That even if that person were to double their annual income to $130,000 their “happiness level” would only increase by 7%. (The study went on to say that people were more happy when they spent their money on experiences and generosity rather than on things.)
As a company or as an individual, we all go through seasons of plenty and seasons of want. And I’m not just talking about finances. We go through seasons of plenty and seasons of want with our quality relationships, our quality of life, our health, our areas of influence, and more.
The challenge is to live with intention no matter the season.
We hear that term a lot: “intentional living.” Basically it just means we have the wherewithal to take a moment to pause and think. It means we respond to things instead of reacting to them.
So, when you’re in a season of plenty — as a business or as an individual — then invest your resources wisely and take time to pause and think so you can stay on focus.
I’m serious. Re-focusing is not a sign of weakness. Nor does it mean you’re in over your head. Every human needs regular “re-focusing” to stay on track.
Life happens, and our priorities and circumstances change. Give yourself permission to spend a week or a month taking stock of your values and priorities. Re-assess how you’re spending your time and energy. Doing so is a sign of maturity and motivation.