Is anything more dangerous than security?
A theory to explain why high school heroes turn into zeros
What comes first, complacency or security? Which is the chicken and which is the egg?
We only develop into mindless complacents when we feel secure. My vote’s with security coming first.
Which is what makes security so dangerous.
You can see it see it in individuals. The person who has everything so often simply stops seeking. The archetype here may be the High School Hero, the top guy on the football team, or the most popular gal in the school. Today, both can still be spotted in the same town, they’ve never left, never done anything new, decades after graduation.
Success builds a sense of security. Security breeds complacency. Complacency creates failure.
There’s a well-worn human cycle here, a version of the statistics term “regression to the mean.” It refers to the principle that “rare or extreme events are likely to be followed by more typical ones.” Figures tend to seek the average, the mean, and so when they expereince deviations from the average, they regress back over time.
This year’s slow start to winter snow disappointed Colorado’s skiers. Most major resorts had to push back opening dates several weeks due to lack of snow. So the season started far below average.
Then, around the holidays, the snow fell. It fell, and it fell, and it fell, and so state-wide snowpack rebounded to get above 125 percent historical in some places, and over 100 percent historical median overall.
Regression to the mean is a statistics principle stapled to the expression, “you are who you are.” (As the Latin expression goes, Amor fati, or, learn love your fate.) Every human being will experience some highs, some lows, and it’ll all average out over time. Of course some highs will be higher for some, some lows will be lower for others, but the ups and downs within a single person balance out.
The same principle applies to organizations. They’ll experience highs, lows, and settle into a mean.
That’s why some companies, like Amazon, have built-in the “Day 1” ethos to combat security-bred-complacency. The mindset that the moment you start to let success creep in, it’ll metastasize, expand, and grow to change the way you think…enough to fertilize the seeds of your own demise.
The fundamental reason you can’t do the same thing in perpetuity and expect success is that the world and every competition changes over time. What got you on top isn’t what’s going to keep you there in 25 years, in 15 years, in 5 years, in 5 months.
The nature of success changes as often and as easily as the footwear and fashion in our closets.
Think running. Six years ago, carbon fiber plated running shoes were just an idea. Five and a half years ago, in the 2016 Olympic marathon, two men climbed the podium wearing carbon fiber plated shoes. Today every serious runner wears them, even beyond the Olympics. They’re on every podium.
What’s required for success is always changing. That makes a sense of security, and the complacency that follows, the most dangerous option. A true road to nowhere.
Well, maybe not nowhere. Just the same bar in the same town, an Applebee’s-esque joint with local high championship pennants tacked up all over the walls.
Actually, yeah, kind of nowhere.