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Escaping the Success Trap

Success is often seen as a culmination of hard work, determination, expertise and maybe a little luck. When we are successful, we wear it like a shiny medal as a testament to our hard work and talent. It’s something to be proud of.  But sometimes our success and past accomplishments may inhibit us from future success.  It sounds crazy, right?  Did you ever hear the saying “you can’t get by on yesterday’s sunshine”?

Turns out there is a reason for that, a psychological phenomenon called the Enstellung Effect. The Enstellung (German word for setting, mindset, or attitude) Effect refers to a bias that exists in problem solving that prevents the adoption of a new or innovative approach in favor of tried and tested solutions. When faced with a new problem, our past achievements and experiences crowd in and tend to shape our approach. While drawing from past successes can be beneficial, the Enstellung Effect occurs when we become fixated on familiar solutions without considering alternative perspectives or innovative approaches. We tend to stick to what has worked before, even if it may not be the best fit for the current situation. It stifles innovation and creativity and can be hard to see past them to get to new solutions.  The Enstellung Effect is inherent to how our minds function (our brains are fascinating places!) but it can be deactivated if we understand what is happening and put the work in to change it.

For example, imagine hiring a highly successful salesperson with a stellar track record into your company. This person has a proven track record of consistently achieving remarkable sales figures and exceeded targets in their prior company. Naturally, you expect them to seamlessly replicate that success in their new firm, but their performance falls short.  While there can be several reasons for this, the salesperson is most likely using the same strategy and tactics used for the old company, products, and customers as he has in the past, but they do not work for the new environment. Rather than recognizing this and adapting, the salesperson digs in and redoubles his effort using the same tactics.  It’s a recipe for disaster, or at least failure for the salesperson. The Enstellung Effect can cloud judgment and prevent recognition of a unique challenge.   What they really should to do is step back, assess the new set of circumstances, and adapt to meet them.  This is hard; the prior successes can become a comfort zone and even if they no longer work—it’s hard to see past them.  To do so requires recognizing the need to change and strong willingness to listen, learn, and adapt accordingly.  The first step, as with most things, is to recognize the problem.

Past successes are important and give us a foundation to build on future success if we are willing to tailor our solutions and approaches to changing circumstances.  If we go into a new problem or situation with an open mind and are willing to acknowledge past solutions may not fit the new circumstance, you are already halfway there in the battle.  By letting go of our preconceived notions, seeking inspiration from diverse sources, and adopting a growth mindset, we can break free and unleash our true potential. So, let’s bid farewell to the comfort zone and embark on an adventure filled with growth, innovation, and future success. Remember, the key lies not in what worked before, but in what will propel us forward.

“Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box.” – Deepak Chopra

What new solutions will you find this weekend?