Lesson Learned: Don’t let stable become stale.

Alan Gilbert
2 min readJan 23, 2023

This blog post is part of a series of leadership lessons that I have learned from 40 years in tech.

The words stable and stale look a lot alike. Just pull out that one little ‘b.’ Likewise, there is a fine line between stable organizations and stale ones. Organizations that over index on stability can find themselves becoming stale if they don’t pay attention. Don’t get me wrong, stability is necessary for growth and scale, and ultimately success. It allows you to have structure, process, and a foundation that you can count on, so that you can direct your time and energy to your most important goals. You need the bottom layers of Maslow’s hierarchy to be stable so that you can get to the top. But you also need to ensure that the assumptions or conditions, inherent in your stability, don’t become obsolete. You need to respond to changes in the world around you — competitors, macro economics, politics, technology, etc. — that threaten to invalidate your assumptions.

Or there could be internal changes that warrant attention and adjustment. The organization that was perfect for last year’s small product team with laser focus may be the wrong fit, now that they have doubled in size and are working on multiple initiatives.

Sadly, there could also be changes with people in the organization where their ability, drive, or engagement diminishes, invalidating the conditions on which the stability was built. Or conversely, and happily, you may have new leaders ready to emerge and it’s time to adjust, and give them opportunities to make an impact.

Intel CEO Andy Grove, as famously chronicled in the book Only the Paranoid Survive, asked Gordon Moore, “If we got kicked out and the Board brought in a new CEO, what do you think they would do?” And the answer of course led to Intel getting out of the memory business and pivoting to microprocessors.

The easy path is just to get up every morning and follow the plan and not get distracted. But the world is continuously changing and leaders need to force their teams to periodically reassess, and change the plan, so that their desire for being stable, necessary to get work done, does not make them stale.