Paddy Upton

The hangover of success.

Surviving or Thriving

June 5, 2024

Why we need to learn from wins as much as losses.

It’s intriguing that failures often trigger exhaustive reviews, while successes are followed by celebration and then overshadowed by complacency.  This disparity overlooks a critical opportunity to learn from what went right.

Success can lead to two types of hangovers. The first is the literal headache the morning after celebrations, which fades quickly.

The second, more insidious hangover is the complacency and overconfidence that success breeds. Post-Covid, many businesses are experiencing this long-lasting effect.

Whilst Covid caused some businesses to suffer and/or crash, it presented opportunity for others to flourish. Many that suffered were forced to adapt, streamline, innovate and fight for every inch to survive those adverse conditions. Like a broken bone that heals to be stronger, many of these businesses have emerged from that scarring to be even more robust.

Many of those ‘lucky’ businesses that thrived from the ‘gift’ of Covid are now experiencing the headache and hangover. For some, the hangover is mild. They recognised the Covid gift for what it was and seem to be adjusting well to growth and profit margins returning to more ‘normal’ levels.

Others are suffering the hangover. These become bloated and complacent through the good times that showered them with clients and profits. Expenses are now up, profits are down, bonuses have dried up, headcounts are being cut, and company culture is suffering. It is well known, and proven in research, that successful teams and individuals tend to be less open to introspection and feedback.

In sports teams where I’ve worked, a successful tour or season is generally followed by a ‘well done’ and a performance bonus. In contrast, poor tours or seasons trigger intense scrutiny and a detailed review process. When these are overdone, which happens, they take the form of disempowering witch-hunts that create resentment.

Avoiding failure is an ancient survival mechanism that is wired into our DNA. From the time of living in caves, knowing where dangers lurked was essential for survival. However, today’s world of business and sport is not just about surviving, it’s about thriving. And for this, we learn best from success!

The reality is that there is at least as much to learn from success as there is from failure.  I’ll go one step further and suggest that after a poor performance, there is as much to learn what you did well as there is to learn from what you could do better next time. Similarly, after success, there is as much to learn from what you can still improve upon, as there is from what you did well.

Regardless of whether the sports teams I work with win or lose, we have the same learning conversation in the next day review.

  1. What did we learn from what we did well – in preparation, and in execution?
  2. What could we do even better or differently next time – in preparation, and in execution?

Both success and failure are valuable good teachers. By diligently extracting lessons from both, we can foster continuous improvement. When failure occurs, avoid the demoralising, lengthy interrogations – they suck.

  • How often do you reflect on your successes?
  • Are your reviews balanced between what went right and what could be improved?

Next time you celebrate a success, take the time to reflect on what made it possible. Equally, after a setback, remember to acknowledge what you did well. Both perspectives are key to continuous learning.

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