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Don’t Let Success Blind You to Seeking Out New Ideas

3 Mins read

People like to say that nothing breeds success like success. Sometimes, though, nothing blinds us like success as well.

If we aren’t careful, success can act as a trap, causing us to become complacent and shortsighted. Past success is no guarantee that we will continue to reach our previous heights, which we likely achieved through a combination of skills, experience, and relationships.

All of those are important, of course. But the skills, experience, and relationships that brought us to this particular point in time aren’t necessarily the ones we will need as we face the next round of challenges.

We all know that history is filled with stories of people and companies that were extraordinarily successful – until suddenly they weren’t. Blockbuster is a favorite example people like to cite of a company that soared to breathtaking heights, then plummeted into oblivion when it failed to adapt as customers’ video-viewing habits changed.

Easier Thought Than Implemented

Or imagine you were once the proud CEO of a topnotch company that manufactured typewriters. Over time, your company improved and made even better typewriters until you were the best typewriter company in the world.

You, of course, can see where this is going. One day you wake up and something called a word processor has invaded your territory. But that’s just a passing fad, right? The next thing you know your company is out of business – even though you were always improving and even though you were the best at what you did.

That is a prime example of success blinding someone and a testament to why we need to be open to new ideas. Are there things going on around us that we should embrace and make a part of the things we do, and that we ignore at our own peril?

In a way, being on the lookout for new ideas and trends sounds simple enough, but it’s not always that easy in practice. We get busy. We are caught up in today’s deadlines, today’s meetings, or the crisis of the day.

And, even if we find the time, we don’t know where we should look for these new ideas. After all, they could be anywhere. No one wants to devote themselves to a potentially fruitless search.

But the issue is less about knowing where to look and more about having the mindset to be open to new thoughts and concepts when they present themselves. (Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix when it was a fledgling company and hadn’t yet grown into a serious competitor. But those who were leading Blockbuster failed to understand and be open to the opportunity that was right there in front of them.)

Honing a New Mindset

So, how can we be on the lookout for and open to new ideas despite our busy lives and despite our previous success that is blinding us? One simple way to train our minds to do that is to continually learn new things just as a matter of practice.

Engage in a new hobby. Develop a new skill. This doesn’t have to be anything even remotely related to your profession. You could lead a company that manufactures bicycle parts and decide to learn to play the guitar. How would that help? Your mind would be stretched in ways it normally isn’t, and soon it will become accustomed to being open to new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things. Your mind’s ability to do that won’t just turn off when you get back to the office.

Maybe you will even become more open to things that people in your organization have been telling you about – or wanted to tell you about – but that you had ignored.

New approaches, new ideas, and new ways of doing things are always in abundance within an organization because all of those employees have their own skills, experiences, and relationships that could hold the key to do things better – or branching out into something you hadn’t considered. Leaders just need to have the wisdom and courage to seek out those ideas, and allow those who have them the opportunity to present them to us. They will benefit, you will benefit, and the organization will benefit.

Finding the Best Way Forward

Yes, once you have had success, when a new challenge presents itself it’s natural to fall back on what worked for you before.

But leadership is also about accountability, and part of that accountability is the ability to distinguish between the best way to do something and how something was handled previously, and then choose the best approach.

Sometimes the old way is indeed the best way.

Sometimes it is not.

Leaders who are passionate about doing their best will embrace the idea of using new approaches to solve emerging problems – as well as considering what worked well in the past.

Phil Geldart is the founder and CEO of Eagle’s Flight (www.eaglesflight.com), a company focused on improving individual and team productivity. Prior to founding Eagle’s Flight, Geldart was with Nestlé Canada, where he worked for 18 years, the last five of which he served as a member of the executive team in the capacity of Senior Vice President of Human Resources. He also is author of several books, including In Your Hands: The Behaviors of a World Class Leader, Experiential Learning: Changing Behavior to Improve Performance, and Lead Yourself Lead Others: Eight Principles of Leadership.

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