How to ensure your success formula does not lead to decline

Many of you will be well aware of the story of Icarus.


Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a master craftsman and creator of the Labyrinth. Daedalus constructed the labyrinth as a prison for the Minotaur (half-man, half-bull), born of the wife of King Minos and the Cretan Bull. But Daedalus and Icarus later found themselves prisoned within the labyrinth for displeasing the king.


In order to escape the labyrinth Daedalus constructed great wings made from feathers and wax. Before flying off on their escape Daedalus warned Icarus of the dangers of flying too low as the dampness from the sea would clog the great wings, and of flying too high as the sun would melt the wax. Icarus, being young and reckless, ignored the advice of his father and soared higher and higher until eventually the wax did indeed melt and he plummeted to his death in what became known as the Icarian Sea.


This is usually seen to symbolise hubris. For the ancient Greeks the great personality flaws of foolishness, pride and overconfidence. For more on Understanding your personality: DISCover how to grow using the rule of four see my article published in Dumb Little Man.


It was Danny Miller in 1990 who first related this story to the business world in his book the Icarus Paradox. Miller related the story quite specifically to highly successful businesses that abruptly fail.


Miller shows that successful businesses usually fail due to a foolish adherence to past approaches, excessive pride in their past successes that creates an overconfidence that leads to complacency. There are lots of examples to back this up. You only have to consider some well know names such as Laura Ashley, Tupperware, Revlon and Atari to name but a few, or consider aspects of Merrill Lynch and the Lehman Brothers.


The fascinating aspect of all this, hence the paradox, is that it is the very success formula of the business that leads to its downfall. When the formula moves from being a driving force to an immovable object.


This takes us out of the usual story around business failure being to do with risk taking in uncertain times and places us squarely in the domain of faulty decision making, often called OOPS (over-optimistic planning syndrome).


In my book DISCover the Power of You: How to Cultivate Change for Positive and Productive Cultures I elaborate on OOPS “where our motivational fire has not been tempered by the realities of the environment we find ourselves in.”


So how can we guard against OOPS?


There are many different models for planning to ensure we don’t fall into OOPS.


  • In the business world most people will have heard of SWOT and PEST.
  • In the coaching world there is the Co-Active model, the Thinking Environment and many more.
  • One of the best known models in the cross over between the coaching and business worlds, and the one I often use, is the GROW model.


The GROW model was developed out of various sources but owes much to the thinking of John Whitmore. Whitmore places GROW within the context of self-awareness and responsibility. Without either self-awareness or taking responsibility the GROW model (and indeed any model) will be redundant.


GROW has further been enhanced to incorporate a definition of the ‘topic’ or subject area to be considered, becoming known as the ToGROW model. Combining SWOT and PEST with ToGROW offers a hybrid model that covers many bases to support sound decision making and reduce the likelihood of hubris.


Bringing it all together


There are usually seen to be five key aspects to any success formula:

  • Values: Our world view that inspire us, and makes us an us.
  • Strategic: Our priority areas that keep us focussed.
  • Processional beliefs: How we do things around here.
  • Resources: Actual and perceived.
  • Relationships: Stakeholders and customers.


The problems arise when our initial success formula becomes our fixed and so limiting approach. To address this I have devised my own counter-system called my V.A.L.O.R. approach; values, areas of priority, limiting beliefs, outlook and importantly reframing that keeps us questioning our values and beliefs that are driving our decision making.


However, whichever model is used must be based on a commitment to personal responsibility and self-awareness or you are likely to find that the initial formula for success becomes a fixed and limiting formula of stagnation.



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