The Paranoid Survive But The Optimistic Thrive

Andy Grove, the former President and CEO of Intel, in his classic book on leadership, warns managers to watch out for Strategic Inflection Points that change the competitive landscape of their business.  Every manager must assume that something will change – very soon.  While this may be good advice for Intel-sized companies with everything to lose, in a typical growing business, it may be more important to concentrate on looking for opportunities.  In fact, being overly paranoid can lead to a management obsession with risk at the expense of opportunity.

As Seth Godin noted in his recent blog post, all boats leak.  While occasionally we make the mistake of ignoring the big leaks that threaten our journey, more often, we’re so busy fixing tiny leaks that we get distracted from the real goal, which is to go somewhere.

I’ve had paranoid bosses, desperate to survive, who were always raising an alarm, diverting me from the important work of implementing our business plan.  And I’ve had optimistic bosses who never lost sight of the long-term goal and helped me lift my head from the weeds when I succumbed to short-term thinking.  Guess which ones I’d work for again?

It’s not always easy to stay optimistic, especially when the boat is listing.  But there are probably already enough hands bailing.  The crew needs a captain whose eyes are on the horizon to inspire them.

So, on the high seas of business be alert for the rocks, but keep the boat afloat by buoying it with conviction and optimism. It’s finding opportunities and being disruptive that ensure your business will thrive – and that your competitor’s paranoia will be justified!

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Doug Michaelides (VP, Head of Sales & Marketing Practice)

2 Responses to “The Paranoid Survive But The Optimistic Thrive”

  1. Thanks for your comment Peter. Yes, you’re right, paranoia is appropriate when scanning the environment for disrupters. Of course, if you’re spending your time looking for disrupters, perhaps you’re not spending enough time being disruptive yourself. And that’s the innovator’s dilemma. Isn’t it funny that business history is littered with the corporate corpses of companies whose industries were disrupted – yet it it keeps on happening no matter how many cautionary books and blog posts are written!

  2. Peter C says:

    I think you are talking about disrupters. They can be an opportunity or a threat. Usually, for most companies, the latter. The text books are full of examples of companies failing to respond appropriately to a disrupter. Christiansen writes about it in “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. There are many examples of denial of disrupters. For example, the gas lighting industry created the gas mantle to fight electic light, failing miserably of course. On the other hand, Kodak was one of the first companies to recognize the threat of digital photorgraphy and to respond to it quite well, but still lost the battle.