In a classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Black Knight quickly becomes a feisty model of denial, proclaiming “it’s just a flesh wound,” as his prospects for winning the sword fight against King Arthur plummet.
At one level, I suppose one can appreciate his grit and determination in the face of great adversity. At another, his complete disregard for reality is obvious and pathetic–and ultimately the source of the humor.
It’s not so funny when this level of denial comes to roost in your own world.
At first, it’s not too hard to rationalize away declining customer counts, slowing transaction growth or slipping Net Promoter scores. Spin the dial on the excuse wheel and see what comes up (one of my favorites: “adverse weather conditions negatively affected traffic patterns in key markets”).
And when emerging new competitors start to steal the spotlight, industry incumbents have a set of tried and true dismissive comments: “they don’t address OUR core customers” or “their model has not proven to be profitable over the long-term.”
Many times, of course, a negative trend can prove to be an aberration or something that can be readily addressed. Some seemingly compelling new business models turn out to be flashes in the pan.
So some of these companies turn out to be right in taking a laid-back approach. Unfortunately, many of them turn out to be dead wrong and are now dead and gone (I’m looking at you Borders!).
The key, I think, is to have the level of awareness and insight to discern between the flesh wound and the cumulative cuts that turn out to be mortal blows. The better job you do at determining which customer segments are crucial to your long-term success, which metrics are critical to track and what actions are essential to remain relevant, differentiated and remarkable (and profitable!), the better chance you have for success.
Otherwise, you may not be left with a leg to stand on.