Jun 25

The acceleration trap

do President Barack Obama and Peppercom have in common? We're both challenged
by the acceleration trap.

acceleration trap is the title of a fascinating Harvard Business Review article
co-authored by Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges (Download Acceleration Trap). Its premise? Successful
individuals and organizations can unknowingly become victims of their own
success. Emboldened by one success after another, they take on far too many new
initiatives without clearing their plates of existing ones. As a result, they
end up doing too many things poorly instead of a few things well.

Obama's plight. He's either tackled, or been tackled by, far too many

passage of a comprehensive health care program

a weak economy

high unemployment

the usual instability in the Middle East

the Gulf disaster

the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively

rank insubordination and back-stabbing from, and among, his top civilian and
military advisers

a financial sector run amok

the ineptness of the Big Three Detroit automakers

a rotting infrastructure of roads, bridges and tunnels

and, many more that I can't think of at the moment

choosing, or being forced, to choose to deal with these issues simultaneously,
Obama has appeared weak, indecisive, detached and beleagured (and that's on a
good day).

acceleration trap authors would counsel our president to immediately put most
of these initiatives in a 'holding pattern.' They'd suggest he hold a 'wake'
for those initiatives he kills (so, that those individuals who have worked long
and hard to make them happen, can have a period of mourning). They'd also tell
'The One' to give his staff and the nation periodic 'time outs' to re-group and
refresh. Think about it. We are bombarded multiple times a day with negative
news about one or more of Obama's initiatives either stalling or going South
(housing starts, unemployment figures, the 'runaway general,' a possible
hurricane approaching the beleagured Gulf, etc.). Phew! Man, do we need a time
out from negative news, or what?

for Peppercom, we live and die by innovation. We pride ourselves on outflanking
our competition and staying one step ahead of clients' needs by developing new
and different service offerings. Many have been very successful (i.e.
licensing, digital, tailored workshops, etc.). Others have become sacred cows
that exist in a permanent state of limbo that demand staff time but produce
little, if any, revenue.

taken the acceleration gap very seriously and have been meeting on a
fortnightly basis to clear out the closets, shelves and files. We've put some
initiatives on hold and euthanized others. We have a long way to go, but the
benefits are already obvious. We're also looking for ways to provide more
time-outs for our people.

White House needs to do the very same thing. Obama needs to focus on two or
three macro issues and drill down deep on each (oil spill pun was
unintentional). He needs to do far fewer things. And, he needs to do a much
better job on the issues he does select. If he doesn't, The One will be a one
and done president.

Success demands flexibility.
The successful individual or institution has to know when to say when and
either avoid the acceleration trap or, like us, find ways to extricate oneself
from it.