The word “rut” is kind of a funny word. It is one of the English words that has multiple meanings. For those of you that are deer hunters you know that “rut” is that time of the season where male deer have an over abundance of testosterone flowing as they try to win the favors of “the ladies.” Otherwise known as “breeding season.” Well hate to disappoint you but I am not talking about deer sex. I am not qualified. (Do to a past life in academia however, I can talk about Rhesus monkey sex, if anyone is interested.)
The kind of rut that I am talking about is defined as “A fixed, usually boring routine.” Most people are familiar with that concept. Ruts usually have a negative connotation, sometimes being described as graves with a bit more room. As Ellen Glasgow said “The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.” (Fascinating bio on her btw, click her name.) The Essential Ellen Glasgow Collection (8 books). Some people however, see ruts as a path to success, as a Grand Mason once said in a speech ruts indicate the paths others have taken and can lead you there as well. Or as novelist Arnold Bennett said “The great advantage of being in a rut is that when one is in a rut, one knows exactly where one is.”
However in today’s fast changing business world a rut is not a good place to be. And unfortunately past success can lead to thinking in a rut. While there is nothing wrong with savorying the success continuing to repeat the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” can become an obstacle to effective strategic foresight. As Hines and Bishop say in Thinking about the Future, Guidelines for Strategic Foresight the organization needs to be constantly reminded that all performance follows an “S-curve” and will eventually slow down. To be prepared for this slow down some strategic foresight is needed in order to have a plan in place. The organization needs to be asking “how do we handle risk and how do we handle failure.”
According to them the “rut of success” can become a foxhole, it shields people from the incoming missles of failure or slowdown. Companies that want to break out of the “rut of success” must accept failure and reward risk. There have been many companies and many industries that rode in the rut of success until they found that the rut had gotten so deep it had become a road block to further success. Think music industry. Vinyl, 8-tracks, Cassettes, CDs and now downloads. The industry was not prepared. In the HR field what about recruitment adverstising? Long set up to handle print media what has the Internet done to them? Many say that the same type of thing is happening to job boards because of social media.
So always be thinking ahead. Do some scenario planning. Do that enviromental scanning. Look at past successes turned failures to provide examples of how you need to be planning your exit strategy from your rut of success before you are stuck and the road to success becomes blocked by that success.