Do Not Follow the Leader

February 4, 2022

The title of this blog may look a bit strange, because we typically hear, “follow the leader.” The problem is that “follow the leader” does not always apply.

Many years ago, I had prostate cancer and needed to have surgery. So, I began investigating where I should go for the procedure. Those I asked told me to go to the best place and that was either John Hopkins in Baltimore, or the Mayo clinic. These are the best, I was told. And I was about to make an appointment, when I was directed to consult with a recent medical school graduate who in fact started screaming at me and insisting, “Don't go to Mayo! Don't go to the John Hopkins!”

He went on to say that, because facilities like John Hopkins and Mayo are leaders, to maintain leadership they must continue what they're doing well. They're not prone to accept new technologies easily because they're afraid of losing ground statistically, losing their position as a leader.

At that time, a totally new technology was emerging: A robot-assisted surgery incorporating a Doppler ultrasound, which is now very common. The surgery is done without the surgeon even being in the room. Rather, he conducts the surgery via a computer from another location. This young doctor said to me, “Look at the three places where they are trying a new technology. Don't go to the leaders because the leaders resist new technologies that are not yet proven. They wait until it becomes mainstream.”

This type of logic can apply to many fields of knowledge. The leaders stick to what made them a leader. Meanwhile, new innovations are done in a garage somewhere, and they  dare to innovate because they do not have to prove themselves to maintain a leadership position.

How do you catch a monkey?

Find a hole in a tree that is just a bit bigger than a monkey’s fist. Put a coconut in the hole. The monkey will put his hand in the hole, grab the coconut, but now his hand plus the coconut are too big to pull out.  The monkey will stay put, holding the coconut. The monkey is the prisoner of his success , it found a coconut.

The more successful you are, the more you might be holding onto a coconut and refusing to change. The result will be that your competition that isn’t holding a coconut is free to roam the forest—and beat you in the marketplace.

The moral of this story:

Your present success could be the reason for your future failure.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes