The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Middle Is A Dangerous Place …

So this is the end of the week so this is the final Rules of Rubin.

To be honest, I’ve got at least another 3 weeks worth of posts I could do, but I want to write about some other stuff.

Yes, less valuable, less relevant, less interesting stuff.

Hey, this blog hasn’t got to where it is by writing stuff that is good. That’s why where this blog is, is at the bottom of everything.

But in all seriousness, maybe I’ll write more about the lessons from Rick later – I’ve certainly enjoyed it – but if you are interested, below is the list of quotes I’ve used and if you click here, you can read my write-ups on all of them.

However this last one is one of the most important.

One of the things I’ve never understood are brands consistently playing to the middle.

I get their thinking.

It’s a mass audience.

It’s a relatively safe audience.

It increases the odds of scalable success rather than risk.

But the thing is, playing to the middle is just the illusion of safety.

Apart from the fact lots and lots of brands are all playing there, all you’re actually doing is – at best – staying where you are, but more likely going backwards.

You might not notice it at first.

You may think everything is fine and dandy and slap yourself on the back for being so brilliant and successful.

But what starts off slow eventually turns in the blink of an eye as the brands or people who play and push to the edge take away all the safety you thought you had.

And what’s worse is because you’re high and dry and left far behind, your legacy and capabilities are impacted.

You’re tainted with being part of the past rather than the present, but even worse than that, your operational capabilities have been built around optimising rather than advancing so the best you can achieve is to play catch up.

This is a nightmare situation, based on one simple reality.

When you are playing catch up, your starting point is where everyone else is. But the problem is that by the time you get there, everyone is even further ahead and you’re back where you started.

A bit like Kyle in this episode of South Park

Of course it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some get that the only way to truly catch up is to leap frog current standards to set the next standard, but few companies have the courage to do that, let alone the money.

Oh they’ll suggest they can.

They’ll make all the right noises.

They’ll invest in some new technology, research or corporate ‘tagline’

They’ll even hire the odd new person from a new discipline with new ideas [though in many cases, they’ll then get moved on with the excuse ‘they weren’t the right cultural fit’] … but the reality is they’ll remain in this endless cycle of catch up.

I’ve seen it.

Hell, I’ve worked in some companies that have practiced it.

Because for all the desire to not get left behind, nothing feels as good as feeling in control.

Even if that’s just an illusion.

Because doing this means their position is protected.

It means they don’t have to look at their entire business model.

But more importantly, it means they don’t have to take a long hard look at their contribution for being in this situation.

So while I totally get why choosing to stand still may sound like the wisest option for so many, the problem with it is that it ignores one pretty vital consideration.

Culture never stops moving.

If you don’t want to get left behind, always play to the edge.

10 Comments so far
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I have seen your ROR but as much as I hate to admit it, your extended write up of them is good. The South Park clip kills for so many reasons but I am also glad you’ve decided not to do 3+ weeks of these posts.

Comment by Bazza

Excellent post Robert. I’ve enjoyed this and your Rules of Rubin series immensely. Unlike Baz, I would continue writing extended versions of them, so I hope you bring them back at some point. This is one of the best. The middle is an illusion of safety reinforced by mediocrity. The risks are high but not quite as bad as always trying to play catchup.

Comment by George

We both know he will.

Comment by Bazza

I know for a fact I will because I’ve already written one of them. haha.

Comment by Rob

South park was so good.

Comment by Billy Wizz


Comment by Rob

Anybody who says

“While planning may help define a structure, it may also prevent the idea from finding its own form.”

has got my vote.

Comment by John

2021 is turning out to be a vintage year for this blog. This post in particular is an excellent read. Your point about catch up is far too real, often clumsily hidden underneath a PR release announcing fresh investment.

Comment by Lee Hill

Move to where the puck is going to be.

Comment by John

Exactly John.

Comment by Lee Hill

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