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It’s amazing how many companies fall into complacency on just the tiniest shred of success. Patting themselves on the back at the smallest bit of accomplishment and then racing as fast as possible to do nothing. Choosing not to do even one thing that can affect the growth of the company for tomorrow. Not moving an inch. Think of Kodak. They were in the photo business and an employee had an idea to digitize photos—and yet this idea was never taken seriously because leadership was stuck in the past.

Business all around the world make stupid assumptions about the future based on the past. Leaders think “if the revenue was X last year, then we must be on target to do X next year!” or “we attracted top talent in Q1, so Q2 will continue to attract top talent as well!” But the reality is if we define success as always growing, developing, reaching new heights, and expanding our footprint in terms of revenue, profit, and transformation, then looking at the past is the last thing you want to do.

Kodak got it wrong about digital photos. And perhaps most importantly, what you can learn from their mistakes to make sure they don’t occur in your career or business. The common and underling theme is complacently. And complacency has an impact on both creativity and the bottom line. It’s truly a castle made of sand ignoring the tide which is mere inches away.

Complacency: A One-Way Ticket To Doom

Businesses that are built on lofty assumptions that the world will remain constant and our future success is assured will end up out of business. Complacency is a one-way ticket to doom. A foolish journey that appears from the outside so easily avoided, yet from the inside pulls down some giants of industry. We will look at what happens when complacency takes over and creativity dies.

Complacency usually manifests in three distinct flavors I call The Early Warning, Exploitative Sales, and Paralysis of Choice. Because no matter what flavor of complacency occurs, when creativity dies within a company or career, your eventual end is soon cast in stone. Let’s take a look at a company that has gone out of business and why one of my three distinct flavors of complacency ultimately led to their demise.

Case Study 1: A Toy Business to Learn From

Toys-R-Us was once a thriving business. Anyone who was a kid in the 80’s and early 90’s can remember that a visit to Toys-R-Us was one of the most special times of childhood. It was a store that was packed with toys of all kinds. Not an inch to spare. Dolls, video games, bikes, Silly Putty, board games, remote control cars, and just about every other toy imaginable. It was like a fantasy land for kids.

Toys R Us was started by Charles Lazarus in 1948 as a baby furniture store. As Charles began to add more and more toys to the furniture store, he found that customers were coming in for toys, not to buy furniture. And after several years of seeing this trend, what worked so well was no longer enough. Why was Toys R Us beginning to falter and what can we learn from this particular case of complacency? Let’s take a look…

Complacency Sign #1: The Early Warning

Every career or business change will signal what I like to call The Early Warning. It is a warning signal of some sort that occurs indicating imminent change. Sometimes the change comes all at once, sometimes it’s a slow-moving mechanism. Yet in all cases there is an Early Warning signal that occurs and it’s your job to see it, listen to it, feel it, and otherwise recognize it.

Toys R Us drove the car while looking into the rear-view mirror. Behind Toys R Us were years and years of growth and a track record of impressive sales that included healthy margins and rosy earnings. So they let this rear-view blind what was in front of them. They did not perceive The Early Warning which was occurring all around them.

For Toys R Us, the first Early Warning was that the Internet was beginning to take shape in the late 90’s. And by the early 2000’s people we buying toys as part of a larger shopping trip to other retailers such as Walmart or Target.  And new toyshops were opening up online – including Amazon. People not only had more options now, but more convenient ones too. And, even though Toys R US saw that the sale of toys online would soon be the wave of the future, they did nothing about it because they got complacent. They literally chose to do nothing about the Early Warning happening all around them.

The second Early Warning that Toys R Us had not listened to was that most retail stores started moving toward curated experiences. A curated experience is a retail space environment where products could be actually touched, felt and experienced first-hand. Taken out of the packaging and off the shelf, this is a retail space where products could come to life.

For toys stores, children were able to play with toys and products out of the box — letting them push the buttons, play with the toy and see for themselves if they liked them. Also, retailers we beginning to make areas for experiences such as Superhero Zones or Storytime Hour to create other reasons to be at a store other than a purchase. And while some chains adapted, Toys R Us went out of business for no other reason than because they got complacent and could not read their multiple The Early Warnings.

What Is Your Early Warning?

So what in your career or business is approaching a shift or change in the way it has always been done? What is your Early Warning? This will be very specific to your career sector or business field, and it is out there to see only if you choose to see it.

To pay attention, you must look at what the market is doing and don’t assume that you are immune. Don’t get so comfortable that you cannot see what others are doing. Take a look at your business as a whole and see if there are folks doing things a different way. Is there a shift in some subtleties of how the product or service is being delivered? Consumed? Or purchased? Even a slight difference can signal an Early Warning. Are folks using the product or service in a new and different way?

And I get it – the comfort of looking to the past for answers is easy. But in order to spark creativity, you must move out of yesterday and into tomorrow. And look very carefully at what is going on around you. What is directly in front of you signaling The Early Warning of coming change that you can adapt to creatively?

Excerpted with permission from The Creator Mindset: 92 Tools to Unlock the Secrets to Innovation, Growth, and Sustainability by Nir Bashan, p. 157-161 (McGraw Hill, August 2020)

**Originally published at InnerSelf

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