Monday, June 25, 2007

the fruits of insecurity

While it's not quite true that nothing good ever comes from insecurity, neither is it true that its absence necessarily results in torpidity.

Insecurity is roughly the opposite of confidence. It's about self-doubt, about concern over inadequacy, about concern that one's best efforts won't be good enough, about concern over failing to measure up to some standard of acceptability.

A little insecurity can push one to try harder, to do better than one thought possible, as any military drill instructor will tell you, but turn up the intensity too much and you get very different results, as is frequently the case with the children of parents who are both demanding and emotionally stingy or remote, who set a high standard and respond to success by immediately moving the bar higher, without even pausing for congratulations. Good enough is never really good enough.

While corporations are supposedly guided by hard-headed realists, you can occasionally see much the same pattern playing out. Apple, during the early 90s, for instance, was a company that couldn't seem to get it right, no matter how hard they tried. They were losing market share and there didn't seem to be anything they could do about it. In anthropomorphic terms, Apple was incapacitated by insecurity. They began projects that looked promising, and then canceled them when they ran into snags and seemed unlikely to deliver on that promise in time to save the company.

Steve Jobs came back and instilled renewed confidence within Apple, that they could do something right and make it work in the market. That first taste of success, with the iMac, went a long way to shake off the sense of futility, and they've been nose-to-the-grindstone ever since.

Now it's Microsoft's turn to take note of sliding market share, although sliding from a position of nearly total dominance to one of lesser dominance, and, as if by magic, new signs of life are appearing there. This could be considered an example of the invigorating effect of a little bit of insecurity, although Microsoft's stock price has slipped considerably more than its market share, and the situation within the company may be a good deal further gone than that, as they slowly realize that the best and the brightest have mostly chosen to work elsewhere for a long time now. It remains to be seen.

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