Complacency: an awful trait


This past Monday in Canada was a national holiday, Victoria Day. As with many other holidays in North America and likely around the world, fireworks are a tradition in the evening. This post is not all about fireworks though (not sure I can actually write a full post on the topic). Fireworks however, are good way to illustrate an important aspect in certain societies which are the reason some succeed and/or have potential to succeed more than others.

Fireworks were invented in China a little less than 1,000 years ago. The Chinese actually invented gunpowder as well, the key component to fireworks. In fact, if you looked at the list of Chinese inventions you quickly see a very large impact on our daily lives even today. Crucial inventions such as paper, compasses and printing all come from China and this is the place that had perhaps the most inventions during the middle ages. Until Britain overtook this leading role with the Industrial Revolution, China led the way in many ways.

So why have they not been the world’s leading economy by far for all these years? They certainly always had the population to be up there and with all the inventions under their belt, there should be no reason why Britain and later the United States (currently) led the world in every respect. There is one reason for this unexpected outcome: Complacency. The Chinese had the chance of a lifetime to lead the world for millennia, but they simply did not have the drive or desire to do so. The British on the other hand, took some of the Chinese inventions, improved them and in combination with their own extensive list of world changing inventions (Industrial Revolution) became the pre-imminent power of the world.

The reason this happened was because the British simply had the desire, drive and a society that encourages advancement. The Chinese were content at where they were and became complacent. In business, the moment you become complacent is the moment you begin to lose.

The Americans lead the world today because they had/have even more drive and desire than the British. No country in the world is as entrepreneurial and driven to succeed like the United States of America. As a Canadian, this is a good thing because for all their mistakes, they are the best choice to be leading the world.

Although there is an obvious business lesson to take from this (don’t become complacent once you see success), an interesting point comes when we look at who will lead the world next. Many people think that China will soon surpass the U.S. and lead the world in most respects. They have a much larger population (their best asset) and an emerging economy. However, if history is any indication, China may surpass the U.S. due to their sheer size, but complacency may get the best of them once again. If it does, then we may see a relatively short reign at the top.

Also, I wouldn’t be so quick to count out the American drive. Although they are largely outnumbered, they may make up for it in desire and drive to succeed which can make becoming number one a tougher task for China than one might think. As a westerner, seeing the U.S. lead the world is preferable but if China takes that top spot, they will have to change some flaws in their society (complacency) to keep that spot.