Friday, September 16, 2011

Sometimes in business, you have to eat your own children

This piece of advice was offered to me by one of my many bosses. And while the notion "eating our own children" sounds bizarre, or perhaps even a little comical (and knowing this boss, it was meant to be comical), there is wisdom in the underlying message.

The point of this lesson is: We become overly attached to our own ideas, and we have to be willing to let them go, or even be proactive in destroying them in favor of the next great thing.

I remember a book I read a few years ago (years after I learned this lesson) which nicely illustrated an aspect of this idea. The book was Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma". In it, Christensen gave us example after example of companies that became highly attached to specific products, technologies, market channels, and ways of doing things. Those products, technologies, market channels and ways of doing things served the companies well -- sometimes for generations. In a sense, they became the sacred bedrock on which the companies operated. Or, you could think of them as the company's "children".

In more of a micro-cosmic way, the same thing happens with each of us. We become attached to those behaviors which seem to work, and avoid those which don't, getting stuck in our own ruts. Those beliefs become like "children" to us -- magical formulas for success. But like the larger corporation, we often cling to those magic formulas long after they cease to work.

So why "eat your children"? As my former boss used to say -- it is better to eat them yourself, than have them eaten by others.

Discarding old ideas and embracing what is new and innovative launches us into a process of renewal and re-invigoration. If we are on the lookout for the pitfall of becoming comfortable with, or even loving our "children", we can avoid the painful disasters that comes from clinging to outdated ideas, products, technologies or channels.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Tom, the need to 'eat your own children' was often heard from management in technology companies where I worked. Today's cash cow product would become too quickly forgotten in the fast-changing IT world as customers demanded the next great innovation and abandoned their previously favourite one. Remember Wang, WordPlex, Data General, DEC and other companies that missed what the next wave of innovation and became a memory? Microsoft almost overlooked the Internet. What your former boss said about it's better to avoid someone else eating your children is very true. Good post!