Rigid on principles, flexible on process and vice versa

En-route to success, organizations, teams and people tend to be rigid on principles and flexible on process. You find resourceful people and teams who work with a first principles approach to solve problems. Once they align on the principles, they experiment with various approaches to get things done and, generally, find a way against all odds.

Disruptors are great at this. They don’t get caught up in the process that incumbents are constrained by. The focus on first principles such as an obsession with what the customer needs and work through approaches that helps them address them – usually at lower cost. The only principle that defines their process is experimentation.

But, once success arrives, something often changes. The same organizations and people become fixated on the processes that led to their success. Suddenly, they become rigid on process and flexible on principles.

Hiring and customer service tend to be the first to take the hit. When organizations are small, they focus on a few key principles and focus on a scrappy approach to hiring. But, once they’re successful, the executives involved often convince themselves that a certain archetype (that looks a lot like them) works best for their teams. Similarly, customer service employees are asked to focus on their manual versus actually attempting to solve the customer’s problem and care for them.

This may also be why most successful players make poor coaches and why ultra-successful folks struggle with being parents.

If we had to bring this all down to mindset, the simplest way to describe this would be that successful organizations and people start with a growth mindset. But, over time, they drink their own kool aid and begin managing themselves and others around them with a fixed mindset. They become more focused with keeping and expanding territory and convincing themselves that they’re right over actually testing and experimenting with a willingness to fail.

Of course, in the long run, the moment they become flexible on the principles that made them successful is the moment that marks the beginning of the end of their success.