At the second Pythian Games (582 BC), a precursor to the modern Olympiad, Cleisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon, was proclaimed victor when he won the four-horse chariot race. For his victory, Cleisthenes was presented with a wreath of laurels which he wore proudly around his head. Satisfied with success, and distracted by his effort to obliterate the Sicyonian cult of the Argive hero Adrastus, Cleisthenes ignored his chariot and lost his natural gift for horsemanship. Gifted as he was, Cleisthenes did not repeat as champion in the following games.
A well-worn aphorism tells us that “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards” – a notion that presupposes that the world – your world, your business, and your competition – are always moving. So you too must move with them, or better yet ahead of them, if you plan to succeed. In business, change is a synonym for movement, so if you are not fostering change, then you are standing still.
And Cleisthenes is not alone. Many great competitors have suffered dearly for standing still. IBM stood immobile on its main frame watching Apple cruise by on its personal computer. Blockbuster hung out on the street corner as Netflix sped past on the Internet, and Madonna froze on the runway while the crowd went Gaga. In a moving world, the immobile are swiftly passed. Those that remain doing business as usual soon find themselves behind. Maintaining success and separation from your competition requires sustained self-examination, constant evolution and creative thought. Google started by selling search appliances to businesses and its own search technology to other search engines, then changed to its AdWords model and became an advertising juggernaut. Amazon went from selling books to selling everything and anything. Facebook evolved from “Hot or Not” at Harvard to just plain hot when it changed from freshman pic book to a life sharing communications portal.
So imagine yourself, your department, or your business in a state of crisis. Commit to changing the way you do business to respond to changing conditions. If you start by assuming that your everyday practice will no longer produce the same level of success, you’ll soon find yourself, your colleagues, and your business driving new concepts and processes; working harder and better to stay ahead. Crisis, like no other catalyst, breeds creative thought, and inventive thought breeds the fresh new business ideas and practices that will help your company to sustain success. Once your new product and processes are in place they’ll soon become business as usual unless you begin the process all over again. Like Cleisthenes, if you rest on your laurels, you may soon find a thorn.