Weekender: Robert Downey Jr. on the Fallacy of Imitating Past Success


Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a quick blast of wisdom to start your weekend off on the right track. Why just a quick blast? Because it’s the weekend!

Ever try to replicate a past success only to find it fall flat? In a recent interview for Empire, Robert Downey Jr. was discussing the challenges of making a sequel to the colossal hit The Avengers and his Iron Man franchise.

You never want to lean on things that you did knowing that it was like a back-up parachute. You don’t want to pretend there’s a back-up to that back-up parachute. And yesterday’s approach doesn’t necessarily work today.

I know I’ve had occasions where it’s been too easy falling into the template trap. This occurs when you take a past win and turn it into a template for how to do it in the future. As much as you may try, experience shows you cannot reproduce the conditions that made the previous instance a success – expectations, strategies, and culture change plus the novelty of your previous efforts have worn off. So how do you avoid the template trap? According to Robert,

That’s what I really enjoy – that double sliding scale Spock Chess thing. How do you do it? How did you ever do it? How did you do it before, and how are you going to do it next time?

These questions can spark you and your team’s creativity. If you answer Robert’s questions honestly, they will help ensure you maintain your high standard and dissuade you from attempting to do the same thing twice. You may not need a complete revamp, but don’t assume that a few minor tweaks will keep it fresh. Like the Marvel Comic movies, keep pushing the bar on new, innovative ways you make an impact.

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