Icarus Principle

April 1, 2014

Icarus Principle

“Like Achilles, the hero who forgot his heel, or like Icarus who, flying close to the sun, forgot that his wings were made of wax, we should be wary when triumphant ideas seem unassailable, for then there is all the more reason to predict their downfall.”

― Dwight Longenecker, The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty

Entrepreneurial leaders, take note. Your ambition and exuberance for an idea, project, or person is often the source of your strength and is critical to getting businesses off the ground and into the air. But these strengths can also be a source of vulnerability if you don’t pay heed to warnings or the limitations of your resources or business model. Success in one business doesn’t mean you will find equal success elsewhere. Not everything you touch will turn to gold—no matter how much gold you’ve made this way. If you step outside your core business or start to lose touch with it, you may find your wings no longer work or an arrow sticking out of your heel. 

After we took our company public, we bought a subsidiary, Britcom, from Encyclopedia Britannica. The business was in the call-center space like our firm and it would enable us to enter a coveted new market: selling insurance over the phone. At the time, we were one of the largest firms, fastest growing, and we had a pile of cash from our public offering. We were aware that to sell insurance over the phone you need to be a licensed insurance agent. What we did not understand until it was too late was how poorly Britcom, one of the oldest firms in our industry, would mesh with our newer model. We transferred calls all over the country from one of our call center facilities to the next to maximize employee hours. Once we added two call centers with licensed insurance agents, the work ceased to be as transferable and efficient. The cost of licensed agents was too high to have them call for our other clients, and the insurance calls couldn’t be made by our lower-cost employees who weren’t licensed. 

Icarus Principle

As you may recall, Icarus and his father were imprisoned by King Minos on the Island of Crete. They escaped by fastening wings made of feather and wax. Icarus’ father warned him to not to fly too close to the sun in fear of a wing malfunction. Icarus was too enthralled with flight and the wax soon melted and he fell into the sea to a watery death.

Entrepreneurs tend to get enamored with new talents, ideas, and technologies, as well as new friends. Their passion and desire to take risks is one of their strengths. It helps entrepreneurs see and lead into the future; it also helps sell themselves and their business. But it can also lead them to stray too far from their core business and put themselves and others in extreme peril.  

Listen to warnings from trusted old friends, coworkers, and family about your core business.

Reach your next peak

We help leaders expand the change they want to see in their teams, organizations, and the wider world.