Beware success

Guest puppy feeder… Jason Spencer

Jason is Managing Director of PHD North in Manchester, and is nicely fostering the ‘Feeding The Puppy’ spirit there… he recently attended the ‘Science of Success’ seminar in Manchester featuring Malcolm Gladwell & Daniel Goleman, and has come away with four main thoughts inspired by what he heard there…

…’can I share them on Feeding The Puppy?’ asks Jason.  You certainly can, Mr Spencer…


3. Beware success

If you only ever shout about yourself, people are going to stop listening…

Alongside the history of Fleetwood Mac and the turning point in the American Civil War (more on that another time…), Malcolm Gladwell offered his own take on what has caused the financial crisis we have found ourselves in.

It is all down to “expert failure” and how we deal with overconfidence in others. We tolerate it rather than condone it. Or at least we have done until now.

There is a five stage process:

expertise – success – confidence – overconfidence – disaster

This is essentially the chronology of the recent banking crisis and can be specifically seen in the demise of companies like Bear Stearns for instance. In gathering as much information as we can, we become more confident in our ability to predict outcomes. It makes us experts.


This leads to a “miscalibration gap” as Gladwell coins it, where we believe we have more knowledge and control over situations than we really  do have.

While a bit of overconfidence is no bad thing – do we really want surgeons who fail to reassure us that everything will be alright? As Gladwell pointed out – too much blinds us to the reality of what is going on and clouds judgement. His view is we should encourage humility in our experts, rather than expertise per se.

This got me thinking about successful brands. A little humility goes a long way.

Big brand behaviour or behaving like a market leader is all very well but it goes back to the point I make earlier around speed dating. You cannot ignore the “you” in all this.

If you only ever shout about yourself, people are going to stop listening.

Brand confidence is a good thing. But never forget that the most important element – the target audience/consumer. Or it may end up in disaster.

Does this work for brand leaders in practice as well as theory? Can brands really suffer from some sort of Shakespearian hubris? Let me know what you think….