The Invisible Rut of Success

It’s easier to spot when it’s a rut of failure – product costs too high, product function is too low, and the feeding frenzy where your competitors eat your profits for lunch. Easy, yes, but still possible to miss, especially when everyone’s super busy cranking out heaps of the same old stuff in the same old way, and demonstrating massive amounts of activity without making any real progress. It’s like treading water – lots of activity to keep your head above water, but without the realization you’re just churning in the same place.

But far more difficult to see (and far more dangerous) is the invisible rut of success, where cranking out the same old stuff in the same old way is lauded.  Simply put – there’s no visible reason to change. More strongly put, when locked in this invisible rut newness is shunned and newness makers are ostracized. In short, there’s a huge disincentive to change and immense pressure to deepen the rut.

To see the invisible run requires the help of an outsider, an experienced field guide who can interpret the telltale signs of the rut and help you see it for what it is.  For engineering, the rut looks like cranking out derivative products that reuse the tired recipes from the previous generations;  it looks like using the same old materials in the same old ways; like running the same old analyses with the same old tools; all-the-while with increasing sales and praise for improved engineering productivity.

And once your trusted engineering outsider helps you see your rut for what it is, it’s time to figure out how to pull your engineering wagon out of the deep rut of success.  And with your new plan in hand, it’s finally time to point your engineering wagon in a new direction. The good news – you’re no longer in a rut and can choose a new course heading; the bad news – you’re no longer in a rut so you must choose one.

It’s difficult to see your current success as the limiting factor to your future success, and once recognized it’s difficult to pull yourself out of your rut and set a new direction.  One bit of advice – get help from a trusted outsider.  And who can you trust?  You can trust someone who has already pulled themselves out of their invisible rut of success.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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