Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Is Paranoia a Requirement for Success?

Back in 2006-2008, I was an avid Blackberry user.  At that time, when you went to a business meeting, it was not unusual to see most of the people around the table being slaves to their Blackberry, trying to catch the latest email.  On the other hand, during that period virtually every Blackberry user knew that the internet capabilities of that device were extremely weak.  You put up with it since it was the only way to have mobile email.

It was sad to see recently that Blackberry has decided it will no longer even try to compete in the consumer mobile phone market.  The company will go private and will attempt to sell its smartphones through corporate contracts only.

In contrast, in the 1990’s at Microsoft we worked very closely with Intel.  I often thought that the fact that everyone knew Moore’s Law existed was a huge advantage for Intel.  By Moore’s Law I am referring to the fact the performance of the chip was doubling about every 18 months.  The advantage for Intel was that they knew that if their microprocessor chips didn’t meet or beat that product evolution timing, competition would quickly take its business away.  John Crawford, who was in charge of the design of the Intel Pentium Processor during the 90’s put it best.  “You fall off that Moore’s Law curve and you get ground up.  Just to maintain parity you had to push constantly on all fronts.”

Intel was paranoid about staying ahead because of the constant reminder that it was certain that the products they were marketing on any given day would be obsolete in 18 months.  Most companies who are marketing very successful products don’t make that kind of assumption.  Clearly Blackberry didn’t back in 2007.  That is the year the iPhone was introduced as well as the Android operating system which spawned a whole set of new players in the smartphone industry, and Blackberry has been in decline ever since.

The lesson here is very obvious.  Just when you think you have things figured out and your business is rolling, you need to adopt a mentality that says competition is probably working harder than I am and will certainly pass me up.  You need to think this way not just about your company and its products, but as an individual.  No matter what your responsibilities are, there certainly are ways to improve your overall contribution.  This requires curiosity, and a good dose of paranoia.  The strong leader never gets overly confident that they have figured it all out.  They know that paranoia is a core requirement of long-term success.

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