The Art to Succeed

So, I recently checked out this TED Talk  from Knut Haanaes, Professor of Strategy and International Management at IMD on, “The Two Reasons Companies Fail and How to Avoid Them.” The speed bump review of his message is: companies usually fail by becoming fixated upon exploitation or exploration:

  1. Squeezing every drop out of what you’ve got now at the risk of missing what’s next, or
  2. Jumping a curve to out-innovate the competition, while missing the gold already beneath your feet.

The solution for leaders is to master the artful dance between exploiting past success while exploring future possibilities. That’s the hard stuff and why Haanaes calls it an ‘art’. And I agree.

However, Rocket would like to present a third ‘EX’ that can contribute to a company’s failure also – Exfoliation. 

Like exploitation and exploration, exfoliation is also a necessary part of growth. Shedding some skin can be both painful and liberating when deciding ‘where to next’ for your business.

Exfoliation means changing your current paradigms and/or reassigning your people-power to best serve your new focus/direction. But how far do you go to bring about change before becoming overexposed and bruising the company’s spirit?

Pressing to the edge requires both grit and art. The grit bit is simple. It’s being bold, steadfast, making tough decisions, etc. However, the art required may be nuanced and harder to define.

So here’s the rub: maintaining success in business is really (REALLY) hard. And it requires artistry. To achieve it, great leaders must become great artists.

Art is about creative thinking and doing, and involves some mess along the way. Creating your best work will always be a messy enterprise. The question is: Will the results be worth the effort? Great leaders face this question every day and still find artful ways to help their companies/communities succeed.

How do they do it? THEY DO IT. AND DO IT…

They know it will be hard. They know they will fuck up. They know they’ll be watched and scrutinized by their board. They know there’s stuff they don’t know but have a knack for doing what it takes to figure it out – sometimes just in time. They know who they can count on, and where and when to engage them. They know that they have to do all this to have a shot at creating something extraordinary. They know if they don’t then they never will. They know this is the artist’s life at work.

Companies can fail for a single reason. However, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

It’s no small thing to create a winning culture. But great leaders know that it begins with taking a deep breath, seeing the art of the possible, and then picking up the brush.

We’ll chat soon. Go on, you’re canvas is waiting.


  • Here’s another rub: Great leaders must resist nouning a process and progress between the grit and the art. Great article!

  • Awesome insight as usual. Great read! The hard part to swallow is that art is so much harder to learn than skill or grit. Art takes vulnerability and introspect. You know we want to believe there are 7 magical steps that anyone can learn, lol! I love your realness!

    • Thank you, Scott. You’re right. The art part is hard. It does require vulnerability, introspect and practice! You just have to do it accepting that an online crash course in portraiture doth not thee a Rembrandt maketh. It takes practice. Oh, and also practice. Have I mentioned that it takes practice? Continue to sculpt your career/business buddy… sculpt on! Oh, and practice x

    • Thanks so much Jenny. You already practice this in so many ways within your own business. Making something from nothing is art in itself. To shape it, refine it and see the wonder of it, is also art. paint on girlfriend. Paint on.
      Warmth, Rocket.

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