Len Herstein on Why Complacency Kills Success | MP 84

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On this marketing podcast, Len Herstein talk about why complacency kills success

Have you experienced complacency in your career? Has past success seemed to stop you from achieving new goals? What is the difference between laziness and complacency?

In this podcast episode, Sam Carvalho speaks with Len Herstein about why complacency kills success.

Podcast Sponsor: Brighter Vision

An image of Brighter Vision Web Solutions is featured as the sponsor on Faith in Practice Podcast, a therapist podcast. Brighter Vision builds all in one websites for therapists.

When you’re in private practice it can be tough to find the time to even review your marketing efforts, let alone to make improvements where needed.

Whether you are a seasoned clinician with an existing website in need of a refresh, or a new therapist building a website for the first time, Brighter Vision is the perfect solution.

By first understanding your practice and what makes it unique, Brighter Vision’s team of developers are then able to create you a beautiful website that will attract your ideal clients and get them to contact you. Better yet, they also provide unlimited tech support to make sure it’s always up-to-date, and professional search engine optimization to make sure you rank high in online searches – all at no additional cost.

But best of all, we’ve worked with them to create a special offer just for our listeners. Get your first 3 months of website service completely FREE. To take advantage of this amazing deal, head to brightervision.com/joe.

Meet Len Herstein

A photo of Len Herstein is captured. Len is a business brand manager, speaker, and author. Len is featured on Marketing a Practice

Len Herstein has over 30 years of experience in business and brand marketing. Prior to founding his marketing and events company, Manage Camp Inc., Len innovated, managed, and grew brands for major consumer packaged goods marketers, including Campbell Soup Company, Coca-Cola, and Nabisco.

Len is also the author of Be Vigilant!, a book full of actionable insights and the leadership strategies you need to conquer complacency, improve performance, and safeguard success through business vigilance.

Visit Len Herstein’s website and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

FREEBIE: Read the first chapter of Be Vigilant!


In This Podcast

  • How complacency makes you vulnerable
  • Be vigilant – not paranoid
  • Len’s 3 strategies to overcome complacency
  • Len’s advice to private practitioners

How complacency makes you vulnerable

Complacency is not laziness. Complacency is over-confidence, self-satisfaction, even a smugness sometimes that comes from past success that makes us unaware of potential dangers. (Len Herstein)

Complacency is not laziness because laziness is a conscious choice: you can do something but you decide not to. In contrast, complacency is rarely a choice.

Human beings often become complacent because it allows a sense of comfort, and gives them an excuse not to keep growing.

The more successful you are, the more vulnerable [you] are to that complacency … [it] is always in the background, and if you are not doing things intentionally, not being aware, then [you’re] always going to be vulnerable to it. (Len Herstein)

Therefore, complacency makes you vulnerable to stagnation. You stop pursuing your goals because a false sense of comfort – complacency – encourages you not to.

Be vigilant – not paranoid

Paranoia is based on fear and vigilance is based on awareness. This is all about awareness, and building things into the processes of business and life to help us remain in the moment, [and] aware, so that we don’t lose sight of [potential threats]. (Len Herstein)

Practice being vigilant over your business, relationships, and personal life so that you are not becoming complacent and settling for mediocre.

Be aware of what you have achieved, celebrate it, and set your gaze upon the next goals that you have on your horizon.

Len’s 3 strategies to overcome complacency


Figure out how you are going to keep an eye on things that can threaten your growth and development.

They [can] sneak upon us, and the worst thing that happens when they sneak up on us is that we’re not prepared, and the worst time to be figuring out what you are going to do in a crisis is when you are in that crisis. (Len Herstein)

Practice crisis management and ask yourself, “if this happens, what are we doing to do?” Move through the different potential threats in your life, and ask this question.

Focus on being proactive instead of reactive.

Get off the X:

Be strategically unpredictable. Move around in your “OODA loop” where you Observe the situation, Orient yourself, Decide on a course of action, and Act.

By being unpredictable you make it more difficult for competition to beat you, and increase your chances of being at the forefront.


Debrief incidents after they have happened, regardless of the outcome.

This idea of implementing debriefs in our life regularly so that everybody involved knows that they’re going to happen, regardless of the outcome, has two effects: it makes us inherently more aware … and two, it helps us identify micro-failures that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. (Len Herstein)

Len’s advice to private practitioners

Success is not the end goal, sustaining it is. And complacency is a threat to sustainable success, so be vigilant.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Useful links mentioned in this episode:

Check out these additional resources:

Meet Sam Carvalho

A photo of Samantha Carvalho is captured. She is the Chief Marketing Officer and Designer at Practice of the Practice. She is the host of the Marketing A Practice Podcast and helps therapists successfully market and brand their private practices.Sam Carvalho is a graphic designer living in Cape Town, South Africa, with over five years of experience in both design and marketing, with a special interest and experience in the start-up environment.

She has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016 and has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs take their practices to the next level by enhancing their visual branding. She loves working with a variety of clients on design-intensive tasks and is always up for a challenge!

Follow Sam on Instagram to see some of her work. To work with Sam, head on over to www.practiceofthepractice.com/branding.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

Welcome to the Marketing a Practice podcast with me, Sam Carvalho where you’ll discover everything you need to know about marketing and branding your business. To find out more about how I can help you brand new business visit www.practiceofthepractice.com/branding. If you’d like to see some examples of my design work, be sure to follow me on Instagram at Samantha Carvalho Design.

Hi there. Thanks so much for joining me today on the Marketing a Practice podcast. Today, we have Len Herstein with us. Len Herstein has 30 plus years in business brand marketing and law enforcement that all led to his book called Be Vigilant!, where he combines his experiences to provide a detailed roadmap for individuals and organizations to stop complacency, improve performance and safeguard the success they’ve worked so hard to achieve. Hi there, Len. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Hey Sam, thanks so much. I appreciate you having me on.
So can you tell us what led you to writing your book and how you jumped from business and brand marketing into law enforcement?
Yes, absolutely. For the longest time I was a marketer. I worked for Nabisco and Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup Company. Then I started my own business called Manage Camp where we produced the annual Manage Camp Conference, which we’ve been doing for the last 19 years. I was looking for a way to give back to the community and get involved and be part of solutions and not just whine about problems and this opportunity came up where I was able to become a reserve Sheriff’s deputy. So what that means is I do law enforcement. I do everything that a police officer does. I just do it for free.

I had to go through all the same testing and I had to go through an academy and field training and all this stuff. When I did that, I was thinking that this was going to be a hundred percent different than anything I’ve done in my life, which it was. But what I was surprised by is how much I learned that I was applying back to business in life, and I wasn’t expecting that. The first and most important thing I learned was this idea that complacency kills. We talk about it a lot in law enforcement. We do a lot about it in law enforcement, but I started thinking, you know what, complacency kills brands. It kills businesses, it kills practices, it kills relationships, both personal and professional.

I started getting obsessed with this idea of what is complacency and why is it so dangerous to us and what can we do to fight it and combat it every day? That’s where the book came from. That’s where I started thinking, man, there’s something here that is a direct correlation between law enforcement and my life in business and just my life in general with my family and at home and with friends. That’s where the idea of the book came from.
So awesome because it’s such a unique approach. I mean, not often will you find someone who has been in both business and law enforcement and been able to take something that is evident in one area and apply it to the others. So I can imagine that that’s why your book has been so successful because it’s such a unique background.
Yes, it’s really is, one of the things I had vision to from doing 19 years of marketing conferences is all the books that are out there and all the authors and what’s been written. I always felt like I would try to write a book and never came up with an idea that I felt like was good enough or unique enough. But when I started having this experience and started thinking about this, I realized there was nobody out there really writing anything from law enforcement to business.

There’s a lot military to business, a lot of people who serve their country for 20, 30 years, and then come out and write about leadership or working through difficult situations or crisis management, things like that but I had never seen anything from my perspective. And the reality is most people don’t do what I do. Most people, first of all, don’t do law enforcement for free. They’re smarter than that. And number two is they don’t do it when they’re old like I do it. So having that business experience first, and then the law enforcement really changed the lens from which I was looking through my experiences.
Absolutely. So can we dive straight into it? Can you tell us how complacency makes you vulnerable and how you can identify and eliminate it before it causes damage? Obviously this is a lot of what your book is based on and yes, I think our audience would love to hear more about that.
Yes, absolutely. I think the first step is really defining what complacency is, because I think most people get it wrong. It’s become a throwaway word in society. We see it a lot these days in the news and we see it whenever something happens and we start experiencing any level of success, people start talking about, oh, let’s not get complacent out there. Hey, people are getting complacent, but they use that word, but they never really talk about what complacency is and how you fight it. The reality is if you were to put most people on the spot and say, what is complacency, most people would probably tell you it’s laziness, but complacency is not laziness. Complacency is an overconfidence, a self-satisfaction, almost even a smugness sometimes that comes from past success that makes us unaware air of potential dangers.

The difference between complacency and laziness is that laziness is a conscious choice. When we’re being lazy, we have the ability to do something. We’re just not willing to put into work at the time. I have the ability to clean the house today, but I would rather watch sports on TV. That’s being lazy, which I’m super good at. So the thing is that complacency is rarely a choice. Complacency happens because as human beings, we want to feel comfortable. We want to be able to relax, and we want to be able to let down our guard because it is a more comfortable way to live. So it happens naturally from past success. Past success breeds complacency, which is what makes it so insidious, is that the more successful we are, the more vulnerable we are to that complacency and oh, by the away, the more we actually have to lose when that complacency strikes.

So complacency is always in the background. If we’re not doing things intentionally, if we’re not being aware, then we’re always going to be vulnerable to it. So people, then the next step is people say, well, what’s the alternative? Is the alternative to be annoyed all the time, because that doesn’t sound fun? People think that you have to be head on a swivel, hypervigilant. The reality is that the opposite of complacency is not vigilance. Sorry, the opposite of complacency is not paranoia. It’s vigilance. That’s the difference. Paranoia is based in fear and vigilance is based in awareness.

This is all about awareness and it’s all about building things into the processes of business and in life to help us remain in the moment, remain aware so that we don’t lose sight of all the threats that could potentially be out there. So there’s lots of things in the book and we can talk about, we can in which direction, but the book is all about delivering 10 specific strategies that you can start using right now to identify and fight complacency with vigilance.
Crazy because even just as you were talking now I can fully understand how that happens and how it’s not something we’re all always aware of. Because I think, if you are successful you’re just focusing on your success and you’re enjoying your success and you’re enjoying where your success has got you. You’re not necessarily realizing that in the interim you’re becoming complacent.
Yes, absolutely. That’s where it becomes dangerous is because that overconfidence that we develop is born from that success. There’s something called survivorship bias. Your audience is therapists. They probably have worked with this. Survivorship bias, the best way to explain it is like, we’ve all seen these memes that like I survived lead paint and I survived spanking and I survived driving around without a seatbelt. Click like if you did too. Well, the reality is only people who survive those things can click like. Everybody who did not survive those things is not around. So there’s this survivorship bias that makes you believe that just because you made it past this hurdle, that what you did led to that success.

It’s causality versus correlation. So this idea that our past successes blind us to our our vulnerabilities, someone goes out on a boat a bunch of times and feels like they’re a master sailor, but they don’t realize that when something, and they don’t wear their life jacket. Then all of a sudden they find themselves in the ocean, it’s like, I’ve never had to survive in the ocean for an hour. It’s different. This is the overconfidence that can get us into trouble in all sorts of situations in life. So, yes, it’s one of those things that we don’t see coming but if we’re not aware of it’s just boiling in the background as waiting for that right environment to thrive.
When you’re in private practice, it can be tough to find the time to even review your marketing efforts, let alone to make improvements where needed. Whether you are a seasoned condition with an existing website in need of a refresh or a new therapist, building a website for the first time, Brighter Vision is the perfect solution. By first understanding your practice and what makes it unique, Brighter Vision’s team of developers are then able to create you a beautiful website that will attract your ideal clients and get them to contact you.

Better yet, they also provide unlimited tech support to make sure it’s always up to date and professional search engine optimization to make sure you rank high in online searches; all at no additional cost. But best of all, we’ve worked with them to create special offer just for the Marketing a Practice listeners. Get your first three months of website service completely free. To take advantage of this amazing deal, head to brightervision.com/joe. Again, that’s brightervision.com/joe. .
So obviously then your approach or solution to overcome this complacency is to be vigilant. You mentioned now 10 strategies that you cover in your book. Can you maybe just give us a brief overview of those 10 strategies?
Yes. I don’t think we have time to cover all 10, but we can get into whatever we have time for. The first and foremost one that is the easiest is this idea of threat awareness. We have to figure out how are we going to keep an eye on our threats? In law enforcement, it’s interesting because sometimes you might see two police cars park side by side, facing opposite directions with the driver’s side next to each other. You think, well, these guys are just passing some time and and goofing off. But what they’re really doing is they’re watching each other’s backs. They’re taking their area of responsibility while they might be typing a report or something from 360 degrees to 180 degrees, which makes it way easier to see a threat coming up.

They have a process in place to help them keep their threats in sight. Because we might lose sight of the peripheral. We might lose sight of what’s behind us. So what we do in business, or what we do in life a lot of times is we lose sight of where our threats could be coming from. When we lose sight of where our threats can be coming from, they sneak up on us. The worst thing that happens when they sneak up with us is we’re not prepared. The worst time to be figuring out what you’re going to do in a crisis is when you’re in a crisis. So a lot of what we do in law enforcement is scenario planning; if this happens, are we going to do? If that happens, what are we going to do?

So we build that so that becomes muscle memory. It becomes the way we think so that when things come up, we don’t have to start figuring out how are we going to handle this? We’ve already pre-decided, how are we going to handle this one. One of the misconceptions people have is that when we get into a crisis, we’re going to rise to the occasion. A car is on top of something. We’re going to get this superhuman strength and lift this car up. The reality is that in most situations we don’t rise to the occasion. We fall to our highest level of training and preparedness. That’s why it’s so important to keep our threats in sight.

Build processes into your business. So that you’re always looking out for where could that next threat can be coming from? If it does, what would I do about it? How would I handle it? What can I do now to make it harder for that threat to materialize? One of the things I talk about is this idea of the road runner effect. You’re probably too young. Maybe you don’t know the Road Runner Cartoon, but there was a road runner. So the cartoon was this, road runner would go beep beep and it would run around. Then there was this coyote called Wiley Coyote that was focused on getting this road runner. Wiley Coyote would just focus the entire cartoon on trying to set traps and destroy this road runner and Wiley Coyote would always be the one getting destroyed. But those threats that Wiley Coyote came across, never came from the road runner. They were always from the things that he was so focused on a road runner he didn’t see.

That’s what we do. We get so focused on one or two competitors or one or two threats that we think that we really have to focus on that we lose sight of all the other things out there. So we have to build into our lives and we have to build into our practices and we have to build into our businesses specific ways that we are making sure that on a daily, weekly, monthly, whatever it is basis, we are looking at out for, what are those next threats? What are those next competitive threats and how do we prepare for them? How do we make sure that we stem them off before they happen or are prepared to handle them once they come up? So threat awareness is probably the number one thing.
Awesome. So being proactive as opposed to reactive?
Absolutely, absolutely. Which gets us into a second thing, which is this idea that I call getting off the X. Getting off the X means being strategically unpredictable. What happens is, and this comes from my law enforcement training, where when we’re learning how to handle a firearm and fire a weapon we’re taught to always get off the X. Don’t stand still. Something happens, take a step to the right, take a step to the left. You’re always moving because there’s this thing called the OODA loop. So it’s O-O-D-A. And OODA stands for observe, orient, decide and act. It was something that came from military fighter pilots. It was this idea of how do people go through a decision process? The idea is how do we master the decision process so that we can get through it faster and we can make our competitors get through its slower?

The reality is, so what happens is whenever we make a decision, we observe what’s going on. We orient ourselves to what that is. We then decide what we’re going to do, and we act on it. But here’s what happens, every time we get new stimuli, every time something changes before we act, we’re forced back to the beginning of the loop. So think about it this way. You’re at a stoplight or stop sign waiting to make a right hand turn and you look right and left and nobody’s coming and then you look left again, and then there’s somebody coming. Well, you were about to make that turn, but now you’ve got new information. Now you’re back to the beginning. You’re reorienting, you’re re-deciding, you’re reacting; slows of us down. When we don’t have to make those re-orientations, re-observations, we are able to get through our process quicker.

So people who play sports or watch sports will understand. Whatever sport you watch or play, it usually involves someone with a ball trying to get from point A to point B. So think about well, you’re in South Africa. We’ll talk about rugby. How about that? Someone’s trying to get from point A to point B. If that person is running in a straight line and you are on defense at that point, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out in your head at what angle and what speed you need to run in order to intercept them. Now, as soon as they make a move in juke and spin and twirl and do whatever they’re going to do, that’s when you see defenders falling all over themselves.

Because in the middle of that, they have to now re-observe, re-orient, re-decide, react, and you’ve kept them from intercepting you. So if you’re that in business and in life, if you are that player who’s running straight down the field, who is very easy to spot and very easy to plan for you invite competition. It’s very easy for them to come and pinpoint you because you are predictable. If you place that strategic, not crazy unpredictability, not like so unpredictable that your customers don’t know what you’re doing, or your friends or your family don’t, like you just come off as haphazard, that’s not the point. The point is to remain strategically unpredictable so that you become less easy to target, slows down your competition and keeps you at the forefront.
What I’m just thinking, as you’re talking is obviously in police work, this sort of focus in vigilance is life and death. Like it’s so important to maintain it. I mean, it’s not always going to be that way in business, but I think what’s so special about your message is if you can carry over that same intensity and focus on remaining vigilant and on implementing these things that have helped you so much in police work it’s bound to help you be successful in your business as well if you maintain that same level of focus and intensity that you would in your police work.
Yes. I think, like I said it kills in different ways, but complacency definitely kills businesses. Anytime you think about a business that was successful and then seemingly disappeared overnight, most of that can be tied back in some way, shape or full to a level of complacency. They didn’t see what they should have seen. They become business case studies. We look at them and we’re like, well, how could they have been so dumb? How could they have been so bad that they had all the success and then they lost it? Well, what happened was they got overconfident and they missed the science. When you miss those signs, that’s what happens.

Think about on a personal level, failed relationships people that have had seemingly the strongest marriage and then all of a sudden they are not strong anymore. Well, a lot of that can be traced back to complacency, overconfidence. Missing the signs is what a lot of this is about. It’s if you’re not mentally prepared, if you’re not prepared to catch those signs before they become something big, that’s where the trouble originates. So, yes, like you said, literally life and death in law enforcement, but equally dangerous in business and in life.
So I think we have time to maybe jump into one more strategy and then people will have to buy the book to read the rest. Can you tell us about a third one?
So this one I really love because it’s super easy to do, and most people don’t do it in business or in life. It’s the idea of doing debriefing. We do this a lot in law enforcement. We debrief incidents after they happen but the difference between what we do and what people do in business or in life is we do it regardless of the outcome. So we do it, whether the outcome was positive or negative. What you’ll find is a lot of people in business will say, yes, we debrief things, but the reality is they do it when things go wrong. The real reason they do it is to try and find whose fault it was and to place blame and to say don’t do that again. That’s terrible.

But the reality is that when we stop debriefing, because things have gone that’s where we become complacent, because we miss the micro failures. We miss the idea that things may have gone right but maybe they went right by accident. Maybe they went right because we didn’t do as poorly as our competition did. Maybe they could have gone better. They could have, the success is masking these little mistakes that we’re making that become bigger mistakes because we never deal with them. We just have a success. We pat ourselves on the back and we move on.

This idea of implementing debriefs in our life on a regular so that everybody involved knows they’re going to happen, regardless of the outcome has two effects. Number one, it makes us inherently more aware because we know we’re going to have to answer questions and talk about things on the back end. So we remain more aware of what’s going on, which automatically makes us more vigilant and less complacent because we’re in the moment we’re thinking.

Number two is it helps us identify those micro failures that would’ve otherwise gone unnoticed. But there’s tricks to doing a debrief, well, and it’s all in the book. I think there’s eight of them, but really some of the easy ones are again doing it regardless of outcome, making sure everybody knows that it’s going to happen, making sure that everybody’s involved regardless of title or position. Many times the most salient observations come from the people who are the newest, who have the freshest perspective, who have more time outside than inside. So we have to make sure that we include them in a way where they don’t feel like their voice is lesser than somebody else’s.

Everybody gets an equal say. So there’s a bunch of other things to do, but if you just decide right now that we’re going to do more debrief and people say, well, what does that mean? At home, like, we’re not going to do a debrief with the family. That sounds a little formal. Yes, I agree. But a debrief at home could be as simple as having regular family dinners and making sure that you’re not just talking about the failures, you’re not just talking about the screw ups. You’re not just talking about the bad grades or the things that people have done wrong, but you’re also talking about what went right in this time period. What went right today? What went right this week? What can we learn from it? What can we continue to do to make sure that happens again? And what maybe could we have done different to make that better? Those types of conversations are super important to have at the family level, the business level, whatever you are.
I really like the idea of implementing that on a family level. I mean, I think it might be a formality initially, but once you get into the flow of it, then it can just become like a chill evening dinner. Like you said, it might just take something in the beginning, but then it just becomes part of your family routine and like you said, prevents the complacency and the breakup of relationships.
Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the, what you said is exactly right, that you make it part of the routine, you make it part of your process. You make it part of how you do business and how you do life. That then takes some of the thought-out of the process. It takes, you remain intentional and you remain in the moment and you remain aware without having to turn around and be like, oh my gosh, we didn’t see this coming. So by making it a process, you make everything else easier.
What a great example to say for your kids as well.
Awesome. I think we’ve touched on some great things there and definitely given people a great taste of your book. So Len, if people wanted to get in touch with you, what is the best way for them to do that?
Yes, absolutely. First of all, the book is called Be Vigilant! Strategies to Stop Complacency and Improve Performance and Safeguard Success. If they want to get in touch with me there’s two easy ways. Number one is you can just come to my website, lenherstein, L-E-N-H-E-R-S-T-E-I-N.com. Or you can look me up on LinkedIn, Len Herstein. I love when people reach out after these interviews and connect with me on LinkedIn, and we can share experiences. Those are the two best ways. The book is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or wherever you buy your prints or eBooks. Yes, those are the best ways to reach me.
Great. We’ll have links to all of that in the show notes. Len, we always end off the episodes with if every private practice owner we’re listening right now, what would you want them to know?
I think the most important thing, Sam, is that success is not the end goal. Keeping it is. The greatest threat to your success is complacency. The best advice I can give you is just be vigilant.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Len, for being on the Marketing a Practice podcast.
Thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate it.
Thanks again to Brighter Vision for sponsoring this episode. To get your first three months of website service, completely free head on over to brightervision.com/joe.

Thanks for listening to the Marketing a Practice podcast. If you need help with branding your business, whether it be a new logo, rebrand, or you simply want some print flyer designed head on over to www.practiceofthepractice.com/branding. If you’d like to see some examples of my design work, be sure to follow me on Instagram at Samantha Carvalho Design.

Finally, please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast on iTunes if you like what you’ve heard. Talk to you soon.

Marketing a Practice podcast is part of the Practice of the Practice podcast network, a network of podcasts seeking to help you market and grow your business and yourself. To hear other podcasts like Beta Male Revolution, Empowered and Unapologetic, Imperfect Thriving, or Faith in Practice, go to practiceofthepractice.com/network.

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