Mad men Business Lesson: Stable Stifles Innovation

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In the season five premiere last week, Pete Campbell (played by Vincent Kartheiser) had a great line (written by Matthew Weiner) . Campbell said, “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.”

Pete’s point is that when the company hits a certain level of success, it fears losing what it’s built up for itself, and fear is an enemy of risk, and of course, if you don’t have risk, then you don’t have reward.

I think this predilection to hoard is a basic human, fleshly instinct, which perhaps Jesus Christ summed up best by saying “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25 NIV)

If Pete is right, and stable is that step backwards between successful and failing, what can a company or organization do to avoid this trap?

Whenever I’m in a change agent role, I say “we’re working at an 80 year start up” (or whatever the age of the company). My point is really that we preserve as best we can the greatness and best practices of the company’s legacy but also live daily with the make or break mentality of a start up culture. That keeps us from throwing the baby out with the bath water while also forcing us to innovate or die because some other fast company will leapfrog us if we rest on our laurels.

It’s really that simple. Because, while stable is certain and safe, Stable is also that step backwards between successful and failing.

Agree? Disagree? Got any ideas on how to achieve stability without heading toward failure?

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