Why do smart people fall from the top? You can simply brush this off by attributing the cause to statistics. But the topic is worth exploring a bit more. Here is what I have on this based on a series of interviews, reflection and thinking.
There are many reasons smart people fall hard from the top. This article focuses on one subset of smart people who fall because of their actions they took during their ascent to the top.
Note: The “You” here is merely referring to A “smart person”
Spheres of Influence
First things first. If you are that smart person on an ascent to more power and more capacity to contribute, you will keep getting moving with networks of people with similar power and capacity to contribute. These networks can include people that are growing with you or new people who you met along the path to higher power. The first triangle represents your growth. As you can see, there are less people with similar capacity and power as you move higher up.
Every person in that network also has their own sphere of influence that grows with their growth. Such a sphere of influence is shown by an inverted triangle next your circle of ascent. As you can see, the triangles are of various sizes – meaning your influence may not grow the same degree as someone else that is also growing with the same kind of power.
You start at the bottom of the power triangle where there are LOT of people like you. Irrespective of whatever “triangle of influence” you pick, at the bottom, the influence is very small. As you move up the power triangle, the people that are in the same level decrease (compared to before) but you can see on the “triangle of influence” that you are expanding your influence and reaching more people. Finally, at the top of your power triangle, your influence is the largest.
It is the same kind of play for others that you meet on your journey to the top.
The Need for a Powerful Ecosystem at the Top
As you grow, you will have more power and capacity but you will also need more power and capacity in the ecosystem around you. You will rarely be able to take on bigger projects without an amazing ecosystem to support you.
In fact, you will reach a plateau sooner than later without an amazing ecosystem to support you. In the early stages of your career, it’s about YOU that matters. In the later stages of your career, it’s about YOU + YOUR ECOSYSTEM that matter.
One Silent Problem: Losing Networks Along the Way
As you grow, there will be occasions where you might be able to accelerate your journey to the top by:
* taking advantage of one of your peers
* taking credit when it’s not due
* NOT giving credit when it’s due
* taking someone for granted
* taking advantage of the situation by throwing someone under the bus
The above are shortcuts and they are tempting. But take one of those and typically damage a relationship with mostly a consequence that will last a lifetime. In your early career, you lose a relationship and you lose a relationship. In later parts of your career, you lose a relationship and you lose a network. The loss can be big depending on what relationship you compromised. If that person had a big sphere of influence your loss is bigger.
The problem compounds when one of the above facts gets you through to the next stage of growth without a major damage. You get used to “slightly” taking advantage of what’s available and keep growing. The above schematic shows the loss of networks of influence corresponding to the person you took advantage of on your ascent to the top. Not all networks are equal but when you add up, every small network lost will make a negative impact.
The Ultimate Price: Collapsing of the House of Cards
All wild parties have to come to an end one day or the other. Building your success without building a super strong ecosystem is like building a house of cards.
The first sign of trouble comes when you face any kind of trouble. The moment you are in trouble, the people in the ecosystem who were “pretending” to be in your ecosystem start bailing out. Since they were “pretending” so well, you might not even have suspected that these were actors. Add to the list the set of people around you who are not actors but they are ones that will simply avoid anything that seems like trouble. Also add to the list are people who have other obligations that will make it hard to support you during these times. If you also add your own ego, your disbelief that this is happening to you, your belief that this is just a temporary blip – a perfect storm is in the making. In other words, a wafer thin ecosystem that will result in simply collapsing of the house of cards.
On one end, you can dismiss this as “bad luck” or blame it on others but deep down in your heart, you know the negative impact of losing all those networks along the way.
The price had to be paid one day!