That is also the title of one of my all-time favorite books for business executives.  Because of this particular book, I had increased my sensitivity to the very dangerous world of paradoxes in business. That book boosted my analytics to new heights. [Sorry, just could not resist the pun.]

This book provides lessons that impact how leaders ought to analyze their businesses. It teaches that if something is succeeding, leaders ought to be watching it with active, ongoing analysis observing its trajectory with an eye to the wax on the wings beginning to melt before it is too late to take corrective action.

As you may remember from Greek mythology, Icarus used wax and feathers to assemble a very large and powerful set of wings that allowed him to soar and to rise so high that the heat from the sun melted the wax causing him to plunge to his death. Those strong, powerful wings, used with near-abandon, resulted in his demise. Likewise, strong powerful products and strategies have within them weaknesses that if not addressed early enough can have drastic consequences.

It is human nature, for businesses, for people, to latch onto a product, process, market, concept, etc., that is working well and then pour more resources into it to propel it, even more so, along the same trajectory upwards.  The author, Danny Miller cautions that THAT is exactly what Icarus did. Miller has studied hundreds of companies which built their futures on what worked exceedingly well in the past. He discovered this paradox emerged in those companies. By doing what worked in the past, by doing more of it, those companies created dangerous habits which contained within them the seeds of their failure.

One particular passage in Miller’s book made a strong impression on me and may do so on you, too. “…to avoid myopia and and the excesses of trajectories, …reflect about basic assumptions: deep seated views of customers, strategies, and corporate culture…underlying goals and presumptions…become conscious of such inbred premises…[p. 197.  Note: highlight and underlying of text is mine.]

Miller’s book, if you can still find it, teaches readers how to categorize companies, and decisions, into one of four groups and provides prescriptions to help take corrective actions before the proverbial wax on the businesses’ wings begins to melt. By reading this book today in historical context, savvy buisness readers can judge the wisdom Miller once provided during the heyday of American business success and compare that to what we know today, over two decades later, about those same companies as they stand, or don’t stand. By reading this you can turn every company mentioned in the book into a case study of what worked or what has not worked, while also absorbing valuable tips which you can use as a template to measure your own business and business decisions.

[Source: The ICARUS PARADOX: How Exceptional Companies Bring About Their Own Downfall,  by Danny Miller.  HarperBusiness, 1990.]