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May 2nd, 2013 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

A cautionary tale

“Success is a powerful thing. It tends to make companies stupid, and they become less and less innovative.” — Scott Cook, Intuit

I’ve witnessed this quote from Scott Cook play out in full force when I was at eBay: In the early 2000’s eBay was riding a phenomenal wave of global success. We grew at an incredible pace and there was no end in sight. And what happened was that eBay at large became uber-careful. They didn’t want to do anything which could jeopardize growth — and thus pretty much stopped innovating.

What followed was a long slump into boring mediocrity — until a few years ago (and with former CEO Meg Whitman out of the way) a new leadership team brought aggressive experimentation and innovation back to eBay. Today eBay is stronger than ever.

The reason why I tell you this story is simple: I’ve seen this exact same pattern repeat itself not only in very large corporations but also small startups. Startup finds something which works, becomes paralyzed by its own success and stops pushing hard into new areas, products or services. And sadly for startups this pattern is even more dangerous — it takes years for a large tanker like eBay to sink. Startups go under within months.

Never stop innovating. Make lots of little bets. Experiment. Be decisive.

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