In classical mythology, the concept of hubris is often illustrated by the story of Icarus. The son of the master craftsman Daedelus, Icarus let his pride overpower his humility and paid dearly for his mistake. Wikipedia says it best:
Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms.
How many times have you been in a meeting where the topic of competitive threats come up? And how many times are those threats answered by assertions of “Maybe, but we’re better!” Better technologically, better in some specific attribute, or just downright better overall. Whether or not the customers believe you (and one only look to the sales and market share numbers to quickly learn the answer to that question), some people will forever hold on to the idea that being better is enough.
This morning Dave Winer posted on Google+ and an incumbent’s ability to innovate against the status quo. It’s an interesting piece, especially when he argues that the incumbents become too enamoured with the status quo (aka “Why would we leave money on the table?” syndrome), while anyone they could bring in to shake up the status quo would probably fall prey to office politics. I’m not sure how much I agree with those conclusions, but they are interesting food for thought.
The larger question here is whether it’s possible to get out of your own way long enough to attack the big issues head on. While it might be true that your product is technically superior to the competition’s, if the customer is buying the competition’s products, you’ve got a problem in desperate need of solving (viz: Kris’ piece on Being Good Enough).
If you’ve got yourself convinced that you’re infallible, impervious, or otherwise untouchable, you might spend some time thinking about what happened to IBM, Microsoft, and DEC, or what’s currently happening to Nokia and RIM, or will no doubt ultimately happen to Google, Facebook, and even my beloved Apple, when a young, small, agile upstart comes along and puts a technically superior product out of business.