From wax wings to corporate hubris

From wax wings to corporate hubris

14 June, 2023 3 min read
business, marketing, innovation

In Ancient Greek mythology, there exists a timeless tale that offers us valuable insights into the pitfalls that can befall companies and their executive teams: the myth of Icarus and Daedalus.

Its relevance to the modern business world is striking.

Picture this: a company, armed with technologically revolutionary ideas and an unwavering belief in their own superiority, soars to great heights, creating marketing hype that it then–foolishly–consumes, “getting high on its own supply.”

They embrace their own vision without seeking validation from the very people they aim to serve: customers. In their ascent, they are plagued by a dangerous hubris. They grow fixed and variable costs far faster than the revenues that these costs should bolster, grow. And, perhaps, they grow the organization far farther and far faster than what the management team can effectively handle.

The cautionary tale of Icarus and Daedalus reminds us that such naive beliefs and hubris can lead to a catastrophic downfall.

Icarus, driven by his own ambition and by disregarding the warning of Daedalus, flew too close to the sun and had his wax wings melt.

Similarly, companies that disregard the limits of reality and the good-faith warnings of their own skilled people risk facing similar consequences.

Consider the examples of hubris we see in today’s business landscape: forcing elements of a business model upon customers, painting reluctant customers as useless laggards who should either capitulate or go extinct, insinuating a monopoly on market truth and industry vision, or–before interest rates grew above near-zero–hastily expanding headcount in a play of pretending to be a Silicon Valley company, accompanied with luscious self-aggrandizing Press Releases and other means of PR.

These actions and many more mimic the ill-fated flight of Icarus, tempting fate by ignoring reality, prudence, and guidance.

One lesson from this ancient Greek fable serves as a stark reminder for today’s business leaders: humility and intellectual honesty.

Two more are also useful, though not part of the fable: authenticity and customer-centricity.

I know, I know… Nothing here is new. And yet, we see transgressions all around us.

Instead of assuming we hold all the answers, we must listen to our customers, validate our ideas with them, and adapt accordingly.

Forcing customers to adopt what we may think as good for our business brings to my mind images of how foie gras is made. The duck dies eventually.

With ZIRP now long gone, the world is undergoing a long-overdue rationalization. The “tech sector” (stupid moniker) is going through what Austrian economists would call a needed bust after a long boom.

And you know what? That’s good.

Much like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave , so can other Ancient Greek fables and myths offer useful insights.

Humanity has seen all that before, again and again, though in different contexts.

Hubris, after all, is nothing new.