Why Winners Become Losers

Rosabeth Kanter, one of the smartest bloggers on the web, grabbed my attention this morning with her blog, Why Winning Streaks End.  Her lead, of course, was focused on Toyota, the world’s leading auto company, who’s facing a $2 billion recall as well as an investigation by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration.Like all good columnists, her big idea is smack dab in the middle of the column (remember my blog on how to save time when reading a column?).  All too often, long periods of success are undermined not by the competition but by self-inflicted wounds. . . .  Winners become sinners when confidence turns into complacency and arrogance.  They over-estimate their own invincibility and under-value mundane disciplines. Although Kanter focuses initially on organizations, like any good sociologist (Kanter is a corporate sociologist who teaches in a business school—Hahhvahd), she eventually goes beyond organizations to people and makes six suggestions for avoiding major failures:Keep up the essential disciplines every single day, not skipping a single one.Keep checking everything carefully.Repair, renew, relearn, and reinvest regularly.Don’t rejoice in others’ misery, because you could be next.Thank anyone who points out flaws.  Listen to disgruntled customers or disaffected constituencies.Treat even small setbacks as occasions for redoubled efforts.As I was skimming through her list what came to mind was The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande’s new book that revolutionizes the to-do list for surgeons, and shows how to save thousands of lives.  (My blog on David Brooks and Gawande.)Most of us free-lancers (and the rest of the herd as well), should develop our own checklist to avoid meltdown.Kanter closes her blog with a high school athlete’s comment: Winning is great, but sometimes it takes a loss to get you motivated again.  It humbles you down to reality.  I can’t beat that. 
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