Donald Keough, former president of Coca-Cola, has 10 commandments if you want to be a “highly successful loser.” Here they are (paraphrased) from his book (plus one extra for an even more spectacular flameout):
1. Play it safe. It doesn’t take long for things to grind to a halt if you simply reduce risk to zero.
2. Don’t budge. Inflexibility is one of the fastest ways to lose both customers and employees. That’s what happened at Coke for years as company leaders came to think of the drink and the green bottle as a single unit.
3. Put up some walls. Isolating yourself is fun. If possible, build your own Taj Mahal in the corner office.
4. Pretend you’re infallible. To start, never admit a mistake. If you assume infallibility, then you can blame others for whatever goes wrong. Letters to shareholders are wonderful examples of this.
5. Leave folks wondering if they got a fair deal. Play the game close to the foul line and it’s easy.
6. Make snap judgments. When you make a decision without taking time to think, you’ll enjoy the gravity of bankruptcy combined with the thrill of a carjacking.
7. Rely on consultants. Top to bottom, your people will feel trusted and valuable. Plus, having consultants on board allows you to take your eye off the real business.
8. Love your bureaucracy. If you want to get nothing done, make sure administrative concerns come first.
9. Mix those messages. It’s so boring when you say the same thing over and over.
10. Fear tomorrow. Chicken Little is one smart bird. By staying focused on looming failure, you can almost guarantee it.
11. Lose your zest for life. Bonus item! Forget about the pursuit of happiness. Your keywords here: Be realistic.
— Adapted from The Ten Commandments for Business Failure, Donald R. Keough, published by Portfolio.
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