People like to list “success factors” and even “habits of successful people”. My personal observation is that it is essential to have realistic expectations. When a person understands the real challenges he is facing, he is able to prepare accordingly. But if someone expects that things will be easier than they really are, he does not prepare well enough.
Thus, very often a failure in execution begins with a failure in preparation. People may underestimate the difficulty of the problems they are facing, or they may be too optimistic, predicting positive scenarios and forgetting to consider the possibility of negative outcomes. Then, when things don’t really happen as they expected, they are completely unprepared.
But of course, it is not possible to be always prepared to every situation. In this case, if we are aware that these unexpected events may happen, we may develop an ability to adapt, or adaptability. This includes keeping some flexibility in our plans, and having extra resources that can be used in an emergency.
Strategic Inflection Points
Andy Grove, founder and former CEO of Intel, wrote the book “Only the Paranoid Survive“, in which he introduces the concept of Strategic Inflection Points. According to Grove:
“A strategic inflection point is when the balance of forces shifts from the old structure, from the old ways of doing business and the old ways of competing, to the new. Before the strategic inflection point, the industry simply was more like the old. After it, it is more like the new. It is a point where the curve has subtly but profoundly changed, never to change back again.”
“When an industry goes through a strategic inflection point, the practitioners of the old art may have trouble. On the other hand, the new landscape provides an opportunity for people, some of whom may not even be participants in the industry in question, to join and become part of the action.”
“When a strategic inflection point sweeps through the industry, the more successful a participant was in the old industry structure, the more threatened it is by change and the more reluctant it is to adapt to it. Second, whereas the cost to enter a given industry in the face of well-entrenched participants can be very high, when the structure breaks, the cost to enter may become trivially small.”
When a person (or company) is prepared and able to adapt, the extraordinary events may become new opportunities. But insufficient preparation and lack of adaptability may transform any unexpected event into an irrecoverable failure.