A close friend of mine is a World War II history buff. During a recent conversation he was telling me about the Japanese suffering from “Victory Disease” in the course of the war.
Essentially, it goes like this: The Japanese, during the first few months of the war, couldn’t fail. Just about everything they did was an unbroken string of successes, and it seemed that nobody could stop them. Later, when things went bad, they couldn’t recognize why. Because they had had so much success, they couldn’t see their own weaknesses and believed themselves unstoppable. As my friend said:
“Failure, when it happened, left them unable to understand why it was occurring; they had no experience with it and did not have a process to look back and make changes.”
I realized, during the course of our conversation, that I have a similar theory that I call the “1995 Mariners syndrome.” During the 1995 baseball season, the Seattle Mariners made a run for the playoffs starting in late August. At the same time the competitors in their league collapsed, leaving the Mariners with their first playoff berth in the history of the franchise. For a few seasons after that, the Mariners had a (relatively) successful franchise but have now, once again, became the joke of Major League Baseball…Oooh to be a Mariners fan. The team, however, appears unable to accept that it’s not 1995 anymore. They continue to make the same mistakes year after year and point to the 1995 season as their triumph.
The problem, of course, is that 1995 was 18 years ago.
Think about your business for a moment, do you have Victory Disease or 1995 Mariner syndrome? Can you think of a huge triumph that your business had? One that is still pointed to as the pinnacle of your success and that you’re trying to recreate? And if so, are you relying on one or two past wins that happened more than 3 years ago, as the reason for building the products or services you are?
Sometimes in business we have to ask ourselves the hard questions and admit the uncomfortable truths. But this is what makes a business grow and succeed. Celebrate your wins, encourage your people, tout your successes. But remember that one successful product or service cannot carry you over the long haul. Businesses are built on continued achievements, growth, and the ability to see their own weaknesses and overcome them. They can analyze failure and learn from it.
The best business teachers I had in college had built failed companies. But they had taken those failures and then built successful companies. In failing, they discovered their weaknesses and learned that they could lose. But they also learned to win. And in winning they learned to build successful brands and businesses that we know and love today.