What is Predictable Success?

Analysing the life-cycle of a business and the formula to predictable success...

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Why Your Business Needs Predictable Success.

This article was originally posted on the Gen-I Blog.

Les McKeown’s Predictable Success analyses the life-cycle of a business from its inception to its demise. He describes the sequential stages through which each business needs to pass to achieve and maintain success – as well as the signs of your business’s slipping into stagnation and oblivion.

It’s quite a unique book really, because, whilst there are a million and one books about starting a business, there aren’t so many on how to keep success once you have reached it.

The basis of McKeown’s argument is that success cannot be an ephemeral, ad hoc, chance phenomenon. Rather, it can only be called success when it is controlled and understood, or when you understand the inputs that are driving it and when it can be replicated, scaled, and maintained.

He calls this Predictable Success, which comes at the zenith of the business’s life cycle. In this article, we will have a look at the stages each business must pass through on the way there. But, we’ll also have a look at the skills sets required at each phase.

The Path to Predictable Success.

In McKeown’s terms, meaningful success comes after three prior stages in your business’s life. These are early strugglefun; and white-water. These are stages with which you might be familiar already.

Early struggle is the classic condition of the new business: it is entirely dominated by fears about sufficient cash and concerns regarding the number of people buying your product. You probably recognise this from your own business’s early days.

Once you get through that stage, fun strikes! This is when the business feels like it is growing by itself: you have enough cash, sales keep coming, and it’s actually enjoyable.

Appreciate it whilst it lasts, because white-water is just around the corner. You become a ‘victim of your own success’. Your sales overpower your strategies for dealing with them. The company has outgrown its adolescent structure and the sales demand exceeds the company’s ability to handle it effectively. These are the ‘growing pains’ and, at this point, you might see yourself panicking a little.

Success! And How to Maintain it

Success only comes when you have the structures – the procedures and processes – in place to manage your demand.

For McKeown, the trajectory of a business is determined by the interplay of two forces: vision and structure. In the early days, you could get through ‘early struggle’ and ‘fun’ with your entrepreneurial, visionary instincts and your personal work ethic. But once you have transitioned into the white-water stage, your business needs to think about its systems.

Without them, it is impossible to achieve what McKeown calls predictable success. This is success that is scalable, controllable, maintainable, and independent of you. It is a success strategy that is systemic, that is hard-wired into the structure of the company.

Balancing Structure and Innovation.

However, the risk here is that your attention to systems will sacrifice the force that made your business grow in the first place.

You need to find a harmony between the creative vision of your business and the structures that make it a reality.

Very successful companies have made systems that capture the creative forces themselves. Google, for example, embeds that creativity right into its structure. The company’s “20%-time” gives workers one day a week to work on whatever they want, to take the risks they don’t normally take and be visionary. This is an elegant solution to combat sole reliance on the founder/visionary to ‘come up with’ all the new ideas.

Find a way to do the same. If not, you risk moving into the treadmill phase of McKeown’s life-cycle. This is when you might be churning out your products and services, but the creative element has gone. You are stuck in a rut, and you’re on the way to oblivion. I talk about this in the section called ‘Split Happens’ in my article Start with Why.

The Crucial Skill Sets

McKeown’s book also describes the different people – the different leadership personalities – in your organisation, and the times at which you need them most.

The first two roles are ones you know already. You, as the business owner, the one that got the organisation through the first three stages, are probably the Visionary: the thinker, the ideas-man, the WHY person.

However, to progress through white water you need the crucial HOW person – or, as McKeown puts it, the Operator and Processor: the practical person, who can convert ideas into reality and build and maintain the systems and processes that are the key STRUCTURE in your business.

These roles are the leaders you need as your business grows. You need to be aware of the delicate balance of these skill sets and ensure the reciprocal multiplicity of the relationship is maintained:


Businesses who achieve this balance and reach ‘predictable success’ are scalable, easily maintained, efficient and independent of the individuals who founded the company. They create impact and thrive!

This article was originally posted on the Gen-I Blog.

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