Success Brings Unintended Consequences

During a recent Auxano All-Staff call, founder Will Mancini brought up a conversation that he, Auxano Managing Officer Jim Randall, and noted church consultant George Bullard had that revolved around a book by Jim Collins – How the Mighty Falland its relevance to church and denominational settings today. This post from 2011 came to mind, so I’m reposting it.

Starbucks’ battle back from mediocrity is well documented in CEO Howard Schultz’s 2011 book Onward. Pairing it with Jim Collins’ 2009 book How the Mighty Fall gives ChurchWorld leaders a sobering lesson in how to handle success.

Collins’ 5 Stages of Decline begin with “Hubris Born of Success.” He describes it in a short paragraph:

Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if its leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place. When the rhetoric of success (“We’re successful because we do the specific things”) replaces penetrating understanding and insight (“We’re successful because we understand why we do the specific things and under what condition they would no longer work”), decline will likely follow.

Here’s what Starbucks’ Schultz had to say in looking back to early 2008:

If not checked, success has a way of covering up small failures, and when many of us at Starbucks became swept up in the company’s success, it had unintended effects. We ignored, or maybe we just failed to notice, shortcomings.

We were so intent upon building more stores fast to meet each quarter’s projected sales growth that, too often, we picked bad locations or didn’t adequately train newly hired baristas. Sometimes we transferred a good store manager to oversee a new store, but filled the old post by promoting a barista before he or she was properly trained.



As the years passed, enthusiasm morphed into a sense of entitlement, at least from my perspective. Confidence became arrogance and, as some point, confusion as some of our people stepped back and began to scratch their heads, wondering what Starbucks stood for.

In the early years at Starbucks, I liked to say that a partner’s job at Starbucks was to “deliver on the unexpected” for customers. Now, many partners’ energies seemed to be focused on trying to deliver the expected – mostly for Wall Street.

Great organizations foster a productive tension between continuity and change. On the one hand, they adhere to the principles that produce success in the first place, yet on the other hand, they continually evolve, modifying their approach with creative improvements and intelligent adaptation.

When organizations fail to distinguish between current practices and the enduring principles of their success, and mistakenly fossilize around their practices, they’ve set themselves up for decline.

By confusing what and why, Starbucks found itself at a dangerous crossroads. Which direction would they go?

Questions for ChurchWorld Leaders:

  • Is your organization locked in on your vision, core values, purpose, and culture?
  • Or do you move in first this direction, then that, just to have “success”?

Beware the unintended consequences of success.

an updated post on a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz


preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli



We Are Freed by Our Choices

During a recent Auxano All-Staff call, Auxano founder Will Mancini brought up a conversation that he, Auxano Managing Officer Jim Randall, and noted church consultant George Bullard had that revolved around a book by Jim Collins – How the Mighty Fall – and its relevance to church and denominational settings today. This post from 2011 came to mind, so I’m reposting it today.


Here’s a quiz for you: What does this list of companies have in common? Xerox. Nucor. IBM. Texas Instruments. Pitney Bowes. Nordstrom. Disney. Boeing. HP. Merck.

Every one took at least one tremendous fall at some point in its history and recovered.

In every case, leaders emerged who broke the trajectory of decline and simply refused to give up on the idea of not only survival, but of ultimate triumph despite the most extreme odds.

Churches – and denominations – can go through the same cycle. During a conversation with a pastor today, he asked me what I thought about his church, and by extension, his denomination – in terms of success and failure. The lively discussion that followed reminded me of Jim Collins’ book How the Mighty Fall, ” in which he examines the five stages of decline and comes to a surprising conclusion:

 Circumstances alone do not determine outcomes. We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our setbacks, our history, our mistakes, or even staggering defeats along the way. We are freed by our choices.

The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty, but the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before. Great nations can decline and recover. Great companies can fall and recover. Great social institutions can fall and recover. And great individuals can fall and recover. As long as you never get entirely knocked out of the game, there remains always hope.

A major source of Collins’ inspirations has been Winston Churchill, a lesson in life of how the mighty fall – and come back stronger than ever. One of his most famous and inspiring speeches occurred in the darkest days of World War II. Collins adapted and expanded it for his closing remarks in “How the Mighty Fall.” With apologies to both Churchill and Collins, here is a modification of that same speech for the church.

Never give in. Be willing to change tactics, but never give up your vision. Be willing to end failed ministry ideas, even to stop doing things you’ve done for a long time, but never give up on the idea of building a great church to reach people for God. Be willing to change the way you do ministry, even to the point of being almost unrecognizable with what you do today, but never give up on the principles that define your church’s vision. Be willing to embrace the inevitability of creative destruction, but never give up on the discipline to create your own future. Be willing to embrace loss, to endure pain, to temporarily lose freedoms, but never give up faith in the ability to prevail for the cause of Christ. Be willing to work together with other churches, to accept necessary compromise in the areas of non-essentials, but never-ever-give up your core vision and values.

Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.