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Four Crushing Complacencies

In this book Sur/petition, Edward de Bono asserts that complacency sets in when things seem normal to you because you are used to them.  In business there are four types.

Comfortable Complacency

It creeps up when you aren’t hungry; you have an income stream that appears to be regenerating itself without you having to fight too hard for it.

“we are doing all right”

“we have our own little niche”

“we have always done it that way”

Big Name Disasters = The Woolworth Story & The Ratner Story

Cosy Complacency

It creeps up when environment is uncomfortable and it is easier to snuggle down in front of the fire than stride out and ride the storm.

“we can postpone that project for the time being”

“we cannot increase sales, so we must cut costs”

“we have always done it that way”

Big Name Disasters = The Marks and Spencer Story & The SAGE Story

Arrogant Complacency

It creeps up when you believe you know it all and have all the answers. 

“we are successful, we must be doing it right”

“we have nothing to learn”

“we have always done it that way”

Big Name Disasters = The News of the World Story & The Enron Story

Lack-of-Vision Complacency

It creeps up when your horizons are limited and you lack any thought about what could be.  This is the most common of all complacencies.

“I cannot see what more can be done”

“we are doing as well as anyone else”

“we have always done it that way”

Big Name Disasters = The Betamax Story & The Swiss Air Story

Complacent companies are not necessarily headed for disaster or even a slow drift and decline.  However, there could well be unused potential and missed opportunities.  So it is worth recognising where complacency creeps up and put into place some triggers to combat the creep.

  • Procedures and routines can help:  Without the procedures and routines we can’t measure, refine, improve and change them.
  • Information helps:  Information is the basis for decision-making.  We need to know where we are before choosing a route to get to where we would like to be. 
  • Analysing and logic help:  Analysis compares the unknown with information that is known, in order to make sense of new or complex situations.
  • Creativity helps:  Creativity is the cheapest and best way of getting added value from existing assets


Geoff decided that he wanted to grow his business and took on some additional contracts.  Within a year the profitable niche had serious cash flow issues.  The owner insisted that there had been no changes to the business in terms of the margins and couldn’t understand the current financial position.   

However the comfortable position became a little arrogant when thinking that he knew it all and he could replicate what he had always done in a new area.  Despite additional staff, there seemed no need to change the cosy situation where staff had company credit cards and fuel cards for their purchases. 

Yet those new clients were in London, a significant distance from his usual local client base.  Providing information allowed Geoff to analyse the changes in behaviour.  Fuel costs had increased over and above what might have been expected when they analysed the route map for jobs.  The company credit cards were found to be used for personal purchases as was the fuel cards.  The vehicles were being overloaded with waste material which was being brought back for disposal.  When stopped by the police he had to triple the trips to the dump.  Whilst sales had increased by 16%, the cost to the company was 96%.

After analysing information Geoff decided to sell off the new contract and reduce the travel, he bought larger vehicles and monitored fuel costs.  The company credit cards were revoked and those that had been abusing the system were fired.

Top tips to keep complacency from your door step.

  • Review your business plan or strategy at regular intervals
  • Prepare management information and assess
  • Give yourself a new objective each month
  • Research your industry not just your world
  • Get a critique on your business
  • Take calculated risks

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