Look out, it’s a trap!

images-15Every company I’ve ever worked with has believed that their product or service was the hardest part to accomplish in the ecosystem into which they were selling. All the time, you will hear hardware companies say “the rest is JUST software”, and the exact opposite can regularly be heard by software companies. And in every case, whether they were correct or not, this hubris caused one or more underestimations that ended up costing them a lot of time & money, if not failing outright.  Why do so many smart people keep falling for the same trap?

Right now in the tech world we are seeing this a lot in a particular area–stack fallacy.  Stack fallacy is one specific subset of this “my stuff is harder than your stuff” mentality.  Not to be confused with Phallusy, Stack fallacy is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layer above yours. Here is a great article on it from TechCrunch:

Why Big Companies Keep Failing: The Stack Fallacy

I have seen this even in the hardware space, as everyone wants to “move up the food chain”.  If they make a unique component, they want to offer a complete design instead.  If they have a great reference product, they want to be the consumer-facing provider.  They always believe that this next step up in the stack is easy.  As the TechCrunch article points out, even Apple is not immune to this mistake (and failed at it, at least so far).

So why, if it is known to be wrong, does company after company continue to try it?  There are many theories, but mine is that the problem here is success.  Yep, you heard me right, success is the problem (thank goodness I’ve never had to deal with it!).  Success fools us into thinking we are smart, are “right”, know what we’re doing, etc., which we then believe past a level where it was true.  It is good to value what you know, but as the article states, success leads us to *over* value what we know.

This trap that success sets for us is also the underlying theme in The Innovator’s Dilemma, my high tech business bible by Clayton Christensen.  In short, your company being in existence at all means you’ve had some level of success, even if it was just that you were able to convince someone to fund you.  That means you will naturally do things tomorrow the way you did them yesterday, because that was “successful”.

Understanding this is the first step to avoiding it.  What I mean is, understanding that your success is trying to blind you can help you take a more humble, ego-free approach to the future.  If you accept that fact that what you think is right but is really somehow probably wrong is a sign of *success*, you can begin to let go of the need to be right.  And letting go of the need to be right, even just little bit, can really open your eyes in amazing ways.

You can practice this in little ways to try it out, and you don’t even need to tell anyone you’re doing it (so don’t worry, it won’t be embarrassing).  Try it with your family & friends–let them tell you about something where you KNOW you already know the answer.  Normally, while they are talking you are already thinking about how you’re going to correct them.  Instead, remind yourself to learn something from them.  It can be anything at all, it doesn’t have to even be the thing they are talking about (because, c’mon, you already know they’re wrong!).  Like so many things, make a game of it.  You will end up learning things about the people around you (maybe, the way they always look up & to the right when they are remembering something and up & to the left when they are calculating, for example) and they will love the new listening, attentive you!  Please try it & let me know what cool things you learn, and then how it goes when applying it to your business life.

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