CAD Manager: How Success Can Lead to Failure

Everyone knows what happens when we fail.

We feel crummy and dejected.  We look to blame—ourselves or others.  We look for how others may have not gotten things right.  We look inside ourselves for what we did that may have contributed.  We think back on the delays and detours along the road to success that drove us into the ditch of failure.

Learning from failure is a fairly common topic of discussion.  When failure comes we tend the think about what went wrong and how we can avoid failing in the future.  We dig into reasons for what went wrong.  We look for things that caused the process or project to get derailed.  We delve into procedures and perspectives to find the root of the failure.  We then create checklists and modify processes to help us avoid missing the mark in the coming months and years.  Analysis is soon followed by corrective actions.   Everyone feels better moving forward because they think they have a grasp on the problems that came about and have a plan for not going down that road again.

But what happens when we succeed?

We don’t look back much at all.  We celebrate and feel great.  We congratulate ourselves and others for a good job done well.  We accept accolades and feel confident about the future.  We start looking for the next hill to climb, with the inner focus that the next effort will produce the same results.

But will it?

Maybe not.  According to recent articles in Harvard Business Review by Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano, there are three items that can blind a leader to the upcoming curves in the road that might cause failure.  Their list, when applied to leaders, can make for troubled progress.

  • When leaders succeed, they tend to give too much credit to their own talent.  Not that you are not good at what you do, but are you the cause of success or was it other factors?  Take some pride in what you have done, but don’t let it go to your head.
  • Success can make leaders feel overconfident and that there is no need for change.  Everyone can and should get better at what they do.   Resting on the past can make you lethargic in your efforts to improve.
  • Leaders tend to not investigate success as much as failure.  Take the time to look back after the celebration has ended.  Do not move on until you find a few key points to capitalize on or improve.

And contributor to Forbes magazine, Greg Satell, adds another:

  • Leaders often build networks of supporters, clients, and staff that encourage the continuation of the new status quo.  Doing something well may not spur you on like failing at it.  Sometimes the things that you do best actually make you stall in developing new skills.

So when you are thinking of implementing a new version of software, you may want to think a little about what you have done in the past—even if it worked.  We often repeat the past, expecting it to produce success in the future.  Approaching a new rollout of software exactly as you have done before without some thoughtful planning and review can end in some unexpected ways.

Even when you have a process that you go through each time you think of upgrading and updating, you may need to think about it again.  Have things changed?  Is the company in a different place than it was last time you upgraded?  Are there many employees that were not with the firm since the last deployment?  Are money and time as available as they were the last time?  Do clients have the same needs as before?

If you implement the newest release on old assumptions, you may see less success than before.  Take some time and think about the current landscape of your office, users, firm, and industry.  Do not allow a past success to prime you for failure.

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