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The winner's dilemma

Enthusiasm and the battle for the status quo

Oscar Wendel
Oscar Wendel

Enthusiasm and the battle for the status quo

The first-mover advantage is often understood as having the good sense and fortune of being first to enter a market. While that is often the scenario of many market leaders, rarely is it about merely being first.

Seizing the advantage referred to is laying claim to big enough market territory to leverage market inequalities that arise and result in an uneven playing field.

All companies that have been able to reach a position of dominance tend to share this trait. Competitors are crowded out through means of advantages of scale in production and/or distribution.

Rockefeller dominated by owning railroads that gave access to distribution. Microsoft holds its position largely due to the needs of compatibility. Amazon built a supplier and distribution system of incomparable reach and efficiency.

How raising the entry barriers for competitors function are well covered in economic theory. Yet, rarely do you find much discussion on strategies for how corporations can benefit from stifling change and progress. Maxims such as ‘innovate or die’ are far more palatable.

While the value of continuous innovation cannot be understated, what often is, if not completely overlooked, are the inherent difficulties in upholding a consistent level of performance. The term ‘status quo’ has negative connotations and is often deceptively understood as a euphemism for complacency.

It is fascinating to study how complete failure and breakdown usually occurs shortly after an organisation reaches its pinnacle of achievement.

In my theory, which I call ‘the winner’s dilemma’, I attribute two major factors to explain this phenomenon. The first is that success can be like a disease in how even the best can be seduced into underestimating their competitors and overestimating their contribution and value.

The second factor is the stamina of enthusiasm. As seen in countless Hollywood movies, enthusiasm alone can make up for any number of shortcomings in overcoming incalculable odds.

Though these movies are mostly exaggerated, it is nonetheless the case that our capability is constrained directly by our level of enthusiasm. It is the fuel that feeds the fire of resolve and perseverance.

Put simply, the secret is about not letting boredom seep in. We have an overpowering urge for novelty and for the sense of moving forward if we are to maintain enthusiasm.

I suspect this is our strongest motivator and influence on our perceived wellbeing. Consider how the most intelligent and wealthiest of parents sometimes fail most miserably in kindling any drive or curiosity in their offspring to accomplish anything.

For motivation or desire to exist at all requires an absence of fulfilment. Thus, full satisfaction can become a state of no satisfaction.

Inevitably, nothing fails like success. Given enough time, it has no place to go with nothing left to prove.

The most challenging of circumstances for winning followers and rallying troops is not having a goal line to cross or adversary to conquer. Where a company’s peak performance is likely to only result in a status quo, or even decline – this is where the most difficult victories are won.

On the surface, increasing competiveness and profitability is a mathematical formula of maximising output of resources and minimising cost. Modern markets favour companies that compete this way on economies of scale by making jobs both standardised and interchangeable. Until they are not; our human need for a sense of belonging and purpose remains unchanged.

Despite, or maybe because of, increasing automation, the competitiveness of any organisation depends more than ever on its ability to stir up a desire for life in its members. Ultimately, nothing that is human can thrive without enthusiasm.

Oscar Wendel is the conference manager of CW and CW Qatar.

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