Complacency Stunts Innovation

Complacency Stunts Innovation

Daniel Burrus 15/07/2020 4
Complacency Stunts Innovation

Complacency is often mistaken for stability, the feeling you’ve “made it” and now you can sit back and revel in what you’ve built.

However, that ideology carries far more pitfalls than we realize. Complacency is even more detrimental in the environment we live in today, dominated by exponential digital disruption.

It’s essential to eliminate complacency with both an anticipatory mindset and a willingness to act on the abundant opportunities ahead.

Why Is Complacency Dangerous?

As I mentioned above, complacency is disguised as stability. This state of mind only comes when you have experienced a long history of success and are in the wake of positive news—goals reached, benchmarks achieved and other measurable successes and satisfaction. Your hard work and resulting success can create a level of comfort that blinds you to the Hard Trends predicting incoming disruptions.

Complacency also has individualized impacts. For instance, employees who have only a few years before retirement may have found success by doing what they’ve always done, so why take the time to learn new things? The same can hold true for newer employees in an organization, as changing may seem like a risky proposition in the early stages of their career.

Change Isn’t Complacent

Your competitors are finding new, better ways to do what you began while you sit stagnant. You may have started in the lead; however, the environment is always changing, so reveling in the status quo opens a window for both old and new competitors to disrupt you.

Other issues with complacency include, but are not limited to:

  • Unpredictability. Complacency causes hesitation in innovation, which in turn compromises your ability to influence your environment. In this ever-changing world of digital transformation, either you are the disruptor or the disrupted, placing your future in someone else’s hands. 
  • Agility Without Anticipation. Rather than thinking and acting in an anticipatory manner, complacency poises you to be agile and reactive, protecting and defending from behind. As I point out in my Anticipatory Organization Model, agility and the ability to react are important attributes, but without anticipation, you will always be putting out fires.

One of the cornerstones of my Anticipatory Organization Model are the Three Digital Accelerators—computing power, bandwidth and digital storage. These three change accelerators have experienced exponential growth for decades and are now driving true transformational change, redefining and reinventing organizational models while leaving behind complacent organizations.

Combat Complacency: Start With Futureview

A key principle of my Anticipatory Organization Model is your Futureview®— how you and your organization see the future. Is it ripe with opportunities or characterized by disruption and missteps? If your Futureview is based on forces shaping the future and the abundant opportunities they represent, it will be upbeat and optimistic, with your present actions reflecting that outlook.

Take my principle of Hard Trends for example—those events in the future we know are going to take place. An anticipatory organization that has a positive Futureview derived from the confidence of Hard Trends can see the related opportunities they represent and be less susceptible to complacency.

Equally valuable, a positive Futureview can be pervasive. An organizational leader’s positive Futureview naturally spreads to others around them, even impacting clients and customers as well. Their view of doing business with you is positive and encourages an optimistic attitude, fostering innovations at all levels and reflected in your products and services. Be sure to educate individuals who make up your organization on having an anticipatory mindset and you will see innovation at every level.

Reward the Right Behavior

A misstep I see all too often in organizations I work with is a system of rewards that fosters legacy thinking, which leads to complacency. For example, you may wish to encourage employees to actively watch for predictable problems and solve them before they occur. Is there a program in place to reward those who accomplish this task?

Rewarding benchmarks is another form of misdirected incentivizing in a world driven by exponential change. Encouraging an employee to set a best practice benchmark with regard to a certain product or process goal, you’ll only ever be as good as the competition, while the competitor you benchmark against has already moved on. Focus your benchmark on future best practices so you can jump ahead.

Don’t overlook the value of investing in the people within your organization with training and educational opportunities to foster both their personal and professional growth. Motivated employees who take the time and effort to better themselves dynamically are likely to keep themselves and your organization moving forward.

Bottom line: complacency is dangerous. Maintaining an anticipatory mindset—and encouraging those around you to do the same—can stop the kind of complacency that takes hold of your organization. Remember, you can only coast uphill so far before gravity takes over.

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  • Simon Ridler

    I feel very inspired by your article. Thank you.

  • Aaron Blake


  • Grant Ethan

    This is true, companies should never stop innovating even when they are on top of the world.

  • Ron Myers

    Powerful post. It resonated with what my organisation is doing right now.

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Daniel Burrus

Innovation Expert

Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization. He is a featured writer with millions of monthly readers on the topics of innovation, change and the future and has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Wired, CNBC, and Huffington Post to name a few. He has been the featured subject of several PBS television specials and has appeared on programs such as CNN, Fox Business, and Bloomberg, and is quoted in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fortune, and Forbes. He has founded six businesses, four of which were national leaders in the United States in the first year. He is the CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients profit from technological, social and business forces that are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. In 1983 he became the first and only futurist to accurately identify the twenty technologies that would become the driving force of business and economic change for decades to come. He also linked exponential computing advances to economic value creation. His specialties are technology-driven trends, strategic innovation, strategic advising and planning, business keynote presentations.


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