The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.                                                                                                                     - Andrew Carnegie

Complacency almost always comes from success, and lives long after that success has disappeared. While a sluggishness or arrogance may be clearly apparent to an outsider, complacent insiders don’t have that perspective. While they may admit there are challenges, they'll tell you the problems are over there in that other person’s department. 

Complacency is a feeling of self-satisfaction. Content with the status quo, organizations and individuals that are complacent do not look for new opportunities or hazards on the horizon, instead they are almost always internally focused. They rarely initiate or lead, working at a constant speed even when circumstances call for fast action. We have all seen it, yet we underestimate its prevalence and its power. Highly destructive complacency is, in fact, all around us.

Answering "Yes" to any of these questions may indicate a state of Complacency:

  • Are discussions inward focused and not about markets, emerging technology, competitors, etc.?
  • Do people hesitate to question bureaucracy and politics that are slowing things down?
  • Do people regularly blame others for problems instead of taking responsibility?
  • Are failures of the past discussed not to learn, but to stall new initiatives?
  • Do assignments around critical issues regularly miss deadlines?
  • Do cynical jokes undermine important discussions?
  • Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a big hazard or opportunity?
  • Do meetings on key issues end with no decisions about what must happen immediately (except the scheduling of the next meeting)?
  • Are critical issues delegated without the involvement of key people?
  • Do people say, “we must act now”, but then fail to act?

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Books by Dr. John Kotter

A Sense of Urgency is a powerful tool for anyone wanting to win in a turbulent world that will only continue to move faster. Management control systems and damage control experts serve a critical purpose. But don't let that blind you to an increasingly important reality. Controls can support complacency in an era when complacency can be deadly. Handled properly—and we know the rules for proper handling a crisis can offer an opportunity to increase needed urgency, an opportunity that cannot be disregarded.

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