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5 Types of Success Trap

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A success trap occurs when early successes lead a society or organization to develop structures, processes, infrastructure, technologies and culture that become a liability when things change. The following are illustrative examples.


A country that is first to develop an extensive conventional rail network may be the last to shift to high speed rail as the system seems good enough. A region with a large scale highway system may also be less likely to shift to rail or high speed rail.


A city is the center of a new industry. Wages increase in the area as demand for skilled workers in the industry is intense. With time, other centers with a lower cost base are able to chip away at the city's business. The early success of the city leads to an environment where workers in the area are unwilling to accept more competitive salaries. This can persist even as firms start leaving and the pool of jobs shrinks.


An early technology leader becomes dependent on an overly complex and antiquated technology stack that many people in the organization defend as they are familiar with it. The firm starts to lose market share to firms based on more modern platforms.


A firm that produces a product that causes pollution is unable to respond to an atmosphere of increasing environmental awareness. They resist social pressure, government regulations and industry transformations. Such a firm may end up with a product no one wants, a poor reputation and legal battles.


A technology company with a prestigious and innovative reputation grows a culture of hubris that eventually leads to misguided investments, poor relationships with customers and increasingly dysfunctional products.
Overview: Success Trap
Organizational Culture
Early successes that lead a society or organization to develop characteristics or assets that become a liability as things change.
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Organizational Culture

This is the complete list of articles we have written about organizational culture.
Adaptive Performance
Bias For Action
Business Strategy
Catfish Management
Change Fatigue
Change Management
Corporate Governance
Corporate Identity
Corporate Image
Corporate Memory
Corporate Narcissism
Creativity Of Constraints
Culture Fit
Culture Of Fear
Curiosity Drive
Decision Making
Digital Maturity
Disability Etiquette
Employee Behavior
Employee Dissatisfaction
Employee Expectations
Ethical Climate
Expert Culture
Failing Upwards
Failure Is Not An Option
Genchi Genbutsu
Goal Setting
Heliotropic Effect
Human Error
Human Factors
Humble Leadership
Hygiene Factors
Internal Branding
Internal Environment
Intrinsic Motivation
Knowledge Loss
Knowledge Management
Leadership Style
Lessons Learned
Malicious Compliance
Management By Absence
Management By Walking Around
Market Culture
Matrix Management
Negative Culture
Negative Selection
Nudge Theory
Office Politics
Organizational Capital
Organizational Complexity
Organizational Culture
Organizational Resilience
Organizational Structure
Organizing Principle
Performance Management
Petty Authority
Political Correctness
Professional Conduct
Quality Of Life
Red Tape
Resistance To Change
Satellite Office
Self-Organizing Team
Shadow Of The Leader
Strong Culture
Team Culture
Tolerance For Disagreement
Trained Incapacity
Unspoken Rule
Work Culture
Work Environment
Work Ethic
Work-Life Balance
Working Conditions
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