S2 E95 — The Founder’s Curse Unleashed by the Edifice Complex

We used to call it “edifice complex” — you build a monument (new building) to yourself because you made it as an entrepreneur.  But, in doing so you take your eye off the market and bad things happen.  The disk drive industry was a roller coaster of cut throat cost competition .

“5”  Steve Smith, 30: “There are many levels to getting to know a subject. It can be argued that one doesn’t come to a full understanding until having taught the thing a few times. You’ll go deep today.” Gemini

Hi and welcome to Thursday’s Episode 95 in Season 2 of  “My Pandemic Year Natural Experiment” on this 13th day of August in the summer of 2020.  

“The Tau of Steves: What You Don’t Know Could Fill a Book”

Table of Contents

Season One and Two are a two-year examination of how bits of wisdom changed during the “normal” pre-pandemic and then in this unfolding pandemic year.

Previously in Season Two, the Pandemic Year

S2 E94Sustained Growth: Slicing Turnover and Grooming Experts; S2 E93Who It Takes to Keep Growth at It’s Peak; S2 E92Herding Cats Towards a Tornado

Related from Season One, the Normal Year

S1 E95No Back to Work Days or Hump Days Allowed; S1 E94Wasn’t There a Movie about the Tau of Steve?; S1 E93Why is it easier to Hate than to Love the other Half?; S1 E92Shh … Secrets Husbands Keep to Ourselves


This is a continuation of “Volume Two Manuscript — WorkFit” a work-in-progress.

In previous episodes we described Start Up, Emerging Growth, Rapid Growth and Sustained Growth stages.  But, each with the emphasis on how a specific stage provides another better fit opportunity for one or more of 16 Talent Profiles.

We’ve been exploring what it’s like behind the scenes working in a Sustained Growth company.  We broke it down into two parts.  Part One described the trials and tribulations working in an electronic distribution company.  

Part Two tells a technology story struggling with sustaining all the gains it enjoyed after emerging from Rapid Growth.

Part Two

25. Director Continuous Improvement 

Turbulent Industry

The company competed in a roller coaster, cutthroat industry dependent upon their customer technology product demands. It was a new corporate initiative for customizing quality and process improvement programs to meet their unique needs — how to learn from your success and from your mistakes in some sort of organized way

Corporate Education

It was up to Corporate Education to forecast not too far in the future and determine how supervision and management development training and courses were required for sustaining their business while anticipating what had to be in place for becoming a mature, stable business. In the beginning they relied heavily on consultants to provide the content and teach the courses.  I was one of them.

Senior management tasks Corporate Education to spearhead the introduction of continuous improvement . They sourced content from a variety of programs, books, consultants and nearly free content from associations. 

But they  needed a director to manage facilitators from all functions.

Adding Analytical Specialists to Sustain Growth

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

Continuous Process Improvement

When engineering companies place a premium on time-to-market for handing out bonuses to their product managers, those manager want to pick their own exceptional players they can trust, and shield them from unnecessary activities like attending an endless seeming stream of meeting.

My take on it for that disk drive technology company was, yes you have to shrink your product development time-to-market, but you have to be able to improve upon what you learn in the process, over and over again.

Manufacturing from Southeast Asia

Since this was a corporate initiative I remember getting the days of the week wrong when we attempted to schedule our first video conference call with our Singapore CPI facilitators.  And how difficult it was to present agenda items while moving the camera around to whoever began discussing a specific problem for inviting input from the community of change agents.


A senior executive  from the San Diego division of Unisys had been recruited to convince and persuade executive management to process run business.  He had me assume the meeting facilitation role as we conspired to build a consensus and commitment from the top of the organization. 

Edifice Complex

Their headquarters building consolidated California departments into one place having grown from a startup before “making it.” The CEO built a brand new high rise headquarters visible for everyone to see traveling from John Wayne Airport south on the 405 Freeway towards San Diego.  

We used to call it “edifice complex” — you build a monument (new building) to yourself because you made it as an entrepreneur.  But, in doing so you take your eye off the market and bad things happen. 

The disk drive industry was a roller coaster of cut throat cost competition.  Ups and downs.  The reason for continuous improvement was to smooth out the swings — to “rationalize” operations.

Some refer to it as the founder’s curse.  You hit a milestone and you build a headquarters to house your sprawling groups of employees dispersed and distributed in local commercial offices.  

And, almost a year to the day from when you celebrate with the ribbon cutting dignitaries your market shifts away from you and you free fall into a decline. 

During which they either sell or lease their building to other companies on the rise and distribute their workforce to smaller footprint buildings.

Consequences of Not Mastering Growth Crises

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

Cowboy Product Managers

Product managers from the startup days bristled at all the new processes overlayed on their work.  They were “cowboys” and almost all of them were boys, and we took time  away from their rapid, get it done at all cost, results the industry demanded from them.  

I remember one guy who resisted the implementation saying to the CEO, “Look Roger, let me get this straight.  You want me to add more time in my product by insisting I hold these bullshit meetings.  You and I both know you don’t bonus me that way.”

What’s more important — driving revenue or scheduling yet another series of non-productive meetings? 

And what’s wrong with flying by the seat of our pants and doing whatever it took to meet new time-to-market product introductions?


A Dressing Down and Out

My facilitator and I exchange stunned looks. 

I got nailed along with one of my facilitators by the executive vice president, my boss, at the beginning of a Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) team meeting.  

The executive “went non-linear,” as one of the other executives fondly explains, and a trait, up until then, hidden from me. 

With a phone message scribbled in her hand from the director of human resources saying, “dismissed” she appears abruptly out of nowhere, smoke bellowing out of her nostrils. “I want to see you and you.”

“We don’t dismiss, we want CPI to be a positive experience! Get it!? I don’t care what you two personally think, you two don’t dismiss anyone!” 

With that she stormed off. 

Finally, I think … since I’m speechless at this point, I get the treatment she is famous for. I flash back to an earlier boss who told me that if I didn’t get into trouble, I wasn’t doing my job. The motto was ” It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission.”

Immune System Rejection

Its corporate immune system and talent culture reflected their preferred seat of the pants high pace flavor of time-to-market product introduction.

An investment with little to show for it because it took more than 18 months to two years before positive results competed with shorter and shorter and faster operating standards.

Cowboys don’t shine when the business grows to a more mature size and run and gun tactics cause more delays. A brand new building signaled it was time to act like grown ups, use data to guide product development and cut down on waste.  The cowboys were corralled and they didn’t like it one bit.  

Our sponsor, one of the early founders of the company during a downturn sided with to cowboys and jettisoned our implementation.

The company had followed the roller coaster ride of start-up, emerging growth and then reset and then sustainable growth and then reset, so I knew going in it would be a high risk opportunity.

Its corporate immune system and talent culture reflected their preferred seat of the pants high pace flavor of time-to-market product introduction.  

Product managers wanted to know which was more important, driving revenue or scheduling yet another series of non-productive meetings requiring them to manage their operations by data?

They won, I Lost

On Tuesday, my first official day back from vacation, the morning phone message from executive secretary to meet with my boss at 1:30 p.m. fit the pattern. 

My facilitator had explained that after these flare-ups, the exec always patches things up with an apology. That’s my expectation. 

So I show up, kind of rehearsing how I will make it easy for her to make up and she says,

“This won’t be your best meeting.”

Intuitively, it was clear that the ship had hit an iceberg and there were only a few lifeboats available. 

Unfortunately, I’d be walking the plank without even so much as a wetsuit for the cold choppy waters. 

“You’re in the layoffs, part of our division’s fair share. I didn’t agree with it,” she said, “You’re a super facilitator, especially with my staff … who aren’t the easiest in the world to get to agree on anything!” 

The irony of this whole situation lies in the fact that I have been an outplacement consultant on and off over the past 13 years.

Now I was on the receiving end of the services. She kept her meeting brief to only a few minutes, something I had always advised whenever I had been at a client’s “taking out” or “picking up” a new participant for our services. 

I noticed a checklist of 5 points to remember tacked to her bulletin board … and I mentally gave her an “A” for her handling of me.


Don’t be like them or you’ll fall backwards to a previous stage and never grow beyond it to the maturity stage.

Advancing from Sustained Growth to Maturity

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

You’ll be boxed in until you incorporated processes and base your business decisions on data and improvements.

Five Major Stages of Growth for Organizations

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

But, remember the core strengths that helped you succeed at the previous stage, when overextended lead to a crisis that must be resolved as the ticket of entry to the next.

Growth Stage Key Success Factor Leading to a Crisis New Success Key
Start Up Loosen Leadership Tighten
Emerging Tighten Functional Loosen
Rapid Loosen Autonomy Tighten
Sustained Tighten Repetition Loosen

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

And more often that not the third Sustaining-Associate profile helps you meet the challenge and master to move from Sustained Growth to Maturity.

Talent Profile Growth Stage Organization Type
101 Breakpoint Inventors Start Up Paradoxy-Morons
103 Commercial Innovators Start Up Paradoxy-Morons
105 Marketing Athletes Start Up Emerging-Entrepreneurs
107 Resilient Product Teams Emerging Growth Emerging-Entrepreneurs
108 Core Business Group Emerging Growth Emerging-Entrepreneurs
111 Agile Tiger Teams Rapid Growth Sustaining-Associates
112 Loyal Survivalists Rapid Growth Sustaining-Associates
110 Analytical Specialists Sustained Growth Sustaining-Associates

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020


“3”  Steve Zahn, 51:Each relationship is its own continent in which the tectonic plates merge and part. Earthquakes are an inevitability. Don’t be alarmed. Think of them as a shift in boundaries.” Scorpio

Wow, I didn’t see that ending well.  And, I’m not sure it does, do you?

Random ones that make me want change my sign.

“4” Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980): “You’re being asked for your input because what you say has been known to change how people look at things, or because you’ve been right and/or helpful in the past. Share freely.  Aries

I’m not above a humble brag, because this has been the feedback I’ve received from hundreds of my clients and students.  There I said it!

“5”  Steve Smith, 30: “There are many levels to getting to know a subject. It can be argued that one doesn’t come to a full understanding until having taught the thing a few times. You’ll go deep today.” Gemini

Hence, having taught and experienced and taught this theory as an idea packager this series in Season Two is when I’m finally writing it out in the form of a manuscript.

“4”  Steve Howey, 42:Even though most of you was formed through means beyond your control, you are still, at least partially, your own creator. Feel free to take artistic license with your own persona.” Cancer

Now this is very enlightening.  I’m taking it to mean that I can spend more time with and in my experiencing self and then take artistic license as I switch to my narrating, editing self for creative purposes.

“4”  Steve Carrell, 57; Steve Martin, 74; Steve Wozniak, 69: The time limitations you face are the best thing that could happen to your project. You’ll get things done quickly and efficiently and produce twice as much as you would have if given double the time.” Leo

What, are you guys looking over my shoulder?  Except in a few high stakes situations throughout my career, I’m missing this strategy for publishing all of my manuscripts so far, except on Patreon.

“3”  Steve Greene, 34; Steve Guttenberg, 61; Stephen King, 72:You’ll have a choice between expensive leisure and investing in something that doesn’t seem nearly as fun but will likely last for years to come, perhaps even become your legacy.” Virgo

As much as I’d like to believe this one, we’re in a pandemic damn it.  I’m just not seeing this so-called l leisure of which you speak.

“4”  Steve Aoki, 41:Indifference is boring. Indifference is not invested in what happens. You don’t care what people think about you, but you very much care what happens next and are deeply invested in getting to a certain outcome.” Sagittarius

Sure, as a general rule, I agree.  But, is this really that relevant today?

“3”  Steve Nash, 45:You question not only your actions but also your interpretation of those actions, and it is in your honest response to this deeper level of inquiry honesty that you will find freedom.  Aquarius

So true.  I learned what I had done to contribute to my dismissal from the disk-drive company and years later realized which stage of growth the organization tried to navigate and why it failed.

What’s Going On

Literally Bottled and Set Adrift from KnowWhere Atoll 

    • @knowlabs followers of one or more of my 35 digital magazines organically grew from 4636 to 4733.




    • Saw the movie, didn’t realize that one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly — his detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch book series and Amazon Prime series — also wrote, “The Lincoln Lawyer” which I just finished. Gotta tell you I can’t not see his lead character (Mickey Haller, Bosch’s half brother) as anyone else but Matthew McConaughey. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by: Holiday Mathis – Creators Syndicate


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