I love talking about how the Kodack company imploded.

Not because I enjoy others’ failure or misery, but because it is such a guiding principle for those of us who like to find new things, take them out of the box, and play around with them before reading the instructions. 

Did you know that a low-level employee at Kodak named Steve Sasson actually invented the first digital camera in 1975? 

It was big and clunky (it weighed 8lbs!), but when he presented it to the high-ups, they said it was ridiculous and would never be a thing. 

Flash forward to 2020 (the year of perfect vision, I might add ironically) and Kodak doesn’t exist anymore. Why? Because they insisted on being “the best camera film company in the world” when the world was going digital. 

I call this The Curse of Success…and some churches (both large and small) have it.

What is the curse of success?

When a company or church is thriving and most things seem to be going the way they are supposed to, our natural inclination is NOT to change anything. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?

I’m not saying you should. But I will warn you that this is the time when several of the key factors for failure are born, and if allowed to grow, they will only topple your success from a greater height.

Success can breed laziness

It is very tempting to sit back and let the machine you’ve worked so hard to make do all the work. All you have to do then is maintain the machine, and it doesn’t take a lot of energy to do that. 

This is where you have to watch out for plateaus of energy and excitement. Your team can begin focusing on making the system we’ve established work better instead of asking if we’re accomplishing goals the best way possible.

Watch out for employees like Steve Sasson from Kodak, who while things are great, are in the basement working on new ideas. Don’t dismiss them because they “don’t seem to be on board” or some corporate crap. A rising tide lifts all ships, as they say. So their wins are your wins too.

Success can breed arrogance

When all you do is win, win, win no matter what, then conversations become about preferences instead of what actually works better. Then instead of looking at our goals, we actually end up operating under the preferences of the leader with the most power, because hey, whatever we do is going to be successful, so there isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. 

It was arrogance that caused Kodak to ignore the digital camera. Believing there was no right or wrong way to do cameras and photography, they stubbornly stuck to their way and paid for it. 

Success can breed confusion

As you move at an uncontrollable speed, processes and policies are established without much thought that may later contradict and work against each other. 

One of the hardest things for a leader to do, especially during times of great growth and success, is to keep their head up to make sure everything is still in line with the goals and vision you’ve set forth. Because it feels like you’re not working.

But you are. In fact, you’re doing what only you can do: keeping the vision in front of everyone.

Don’t let just anyone start a Facebook group or get an announcement in the bulletin. If it doesn’t fit into your “why” for that thing then the answer has to be “no.” 

The Power of “No” for Success

Man, some of us just can’t take that word. We think that if we’re positive or accommodating to everyone, that we’ll be heroes and everyone will love us.

But they won’t. 

What you’re doing by saying “no” is protecting your team, your vision, and what God has asked you to do so that you can do it well. Being able to say (and hear) “no” is a big component to success. 

It’s when you can’t say “no” that success can ruin you. 

Success can breed a “yes-man” atmosphere

Whenever things are going well and everything you do seems to succeed, suddenly there’s a peer pressure to remain so positive and say “yes” to everything because why? Everything succeeds. 

But all this does is create an environment devoid of real critical awareness. It creates a bubble around leaders who think things are going great, even if they could be better.

It’s not hard to convince a leader that something broken needs to be fixed. It’s hard to convince them that something good can be better.

Andy Stanley once said that “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by those who have nothing to say.” And every leader who reads that says to themselves, “Whew, glad I’m a leader who listens.”

I hope you are. But it’s not listening when things are hard that create that type of atmosphere, it’s when things are going well.

So, if things are going well for you right now, be on alert! Success can actually breed some negative effects on your church or business! Keep your head up, leaders, and guide your teams to the goal, even if you never design another graphic yourself again. 

Don’t become Kodak. Kodak was so successful they thought nothing could bring them down. 

Just like the Titanic.

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