The Hidden Dangers of Complacency

About the show:

The Agency Spark Podcast, hosted by Sara Nay, is a collection of short-form interviews from thought leaders in the marketing consultancy and agency space. Each episode focuses on a single topic with actionable insights you can apply today.

About this episode:

In this episode of the Agency Spark Podcast, Sara talks with Len Herstein on the hidden dangers of complacency.

Len Herstein has over 30 years of experience in business and brand marketing.

Prior to founding his marketing and events company (ManageCamp Inc.), Len innovated, managed, and grew brands for major consumer packaged goods marketers, including Campbell Soup Company, Coca-Cola, and Nabisco.

Since 2015, Len has served as a reserve deputy sheriff with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado. Learn more at

Key topics:

  • why complacency has more to do with being overconfident than lazy
  • the difference between vigilance and paranoia
  • 2 vigilant strategies to stop complacency, improve performance, and safeguard success

More from Len Herstein:


Sara Nay (00:00): Welcome to the Agency spark podcast. This is your host, Sarah nay. And today I have Len Herstein. Lynn has over 30 years of experience in business and brands marketing prior to finding his marketing and events company managed camp Lynn innovated managed and grew brands from major consumer package, good marketers, including Campbell soup company Coca-Cola and NASCO. Since two 15, Lynn has served as a reserve deputy sheriff with the Douglas county Sheriff's office in Colorado. So welcome to the shell. Lynn,

Len Herstein (00:56): Thank you, Sarah. So happy to be here.

Sara Nay (00:59): I am really excited to chat with you today and learn more about a topic that I know you speak a lot on and you've actually written a whole book on. And so it's the whole idea of complacency kills essentially. And so I'd love to hear, I know you have some strategies in place and we could probably talk for hours on all the different strategies, but we're limiting our conversation to about 10 ish minutes today. And so I would love to hear some strategies that you've mapped out that basically helps people avoid or fight complacency. So you wanna get started with your top one and we can go from there.

Len Herstein (01:29): Yeah. You know what, if you don't mind, if we can take like a minute and just cover what complacency is and why it's so dangerous, cuz I think a lot of people don't think about it. They don't think about why complacency is such a dangerous thing. And really the irony of complacency is that the more successful we are, the more vulnerable we become to it. And a lot of people think that maybe complacency is laziness, but it's not complacency is when we get overconfident or we get self satisfied, even smug to the extent where we become unaware of potential dangers. And when that happens, that's when we that's, when the success we've worked so hard for can become at risk and then people think what's the opposite of complacency then paranoia, cuz that doesn't sound fun. Nobody wants to be paranoid. But the reality is that the opposite of, of complacency is not paranoia. It's vigilance. And that's where we get into these vigilance strategies because paranoia is based in fear. Vigilance is based in awareness and that awareness allows us to comfortably remain in the moment purposeful with meaning so that we don't become complacent.

Sara Nay (02:39): Yeah. That's great. I really,

Len Herstein (02:40): Yeah.

Sara Nay (02:41): Sorry. Appreciate. Yeah, I know. I appreciate you taking that step back and setting the table. I think it's a really powerful point. It's more about being aware and paying attention versus paranoid. So that's a great clarification.

Len Herstein (02:51): Yeah. And this all comes from, I have 30 years plus in business, but in the last seven years I have also gotten into law enforcement and these were all learnings that I picked up during my time in law enforcement. That just clicked for me, that complacency kills in law enforcement, but complacency also kills businesses, brands, personal and professional relationships and all that. So what I can do is I can give you real quick. In a time we have left two vigilant strategies that your listeners can start using right away, no matter where they are in life, no matter what they're doing and whatever they consider success, everybody has a different definition of what success is. It doesn't mean you always have to be striving for more, but you can be comfortable in what you have, but you wanna also be able to protect it. So one of the things that that you can do right now is something that I call debriefs.

Len Herstein (03:34): And it's something that we do all the time in law enforcement. And the reality is if you talk to most people in business or in life and you ask them, if they're doing debriefs right now, they would say yes, they would say, oh yeah, we debrief all the time. But the reality is if you really dig into it, most likely you're debriefing when things go wrong, right? When you have a failure and really what that becomes a lot of times is pointing fingers. How do who's whose fault was it? How do we figure out whose fault it was? Who do we blame? And how do we make sure that never happens again? But when we have success, we pat ourselves on the back, we have drinks, we have cake, whatever we do and we move on. And the problem is that we think about sometimes success and failure is binary, but they're not.

Len Herstein (04:17): There's a lot of failure and success. There's a lot of success in failure. And so when I talk about debriefing, the important things about doing debriefing is doing it regardless of outcome. If you think about you and I were talking about Colorado used to live here. If, for people who live in Colorado, I say, be a Peyton Manning for everybody else. I say, be it Tom Brady. You wanna be the person who, when that game ends, you don't just say we won and that's it. We're moving on. You wanna dig into it? You wanna see what went, right? What went right by accident? What went right? But went but could have gone writer. This is why I have editors. When I write a book. Cause I say things like writer, but you wanna really be thinking about how do we pay attention so that we know, regardless of outcome, everybody, whether it's a team that works for you or a team that you're part of or a virtual team or a makeshift team or whatever it is, you wanna make sure everybody understands that at the end of this, we're gonna talk about what happened.

Len Herstein (05:12): We're gonna talk about what we did. Well, what we could have done better, what we got lucky on what we got unlucky on so that we can continue to learn from it because when we don't do that and we are having success and we don't look at those things, some sometime down the road, it seems like things come outta nowhere. Like where did that come from? Like we just had our, a huge customer just left. We didn't see that coming. That came outta nowhere. It didn't come outta nowhere. It just came out of where you weren't looking. And when you're having that success and you ignore those little micro failures, eventually those micro failures become macro failures and that's when we become complacent. So strategy vigilant strategy. Number one is debriefing regardless of outcome. There's things in the book that the book is called, be vigilant.

Len Herstein (05:56): There's things in the book that I go through that help you make a powerful debrief session. So one of, one of the other things is leave titles at the door, make sure that everybody gets an equal say, and it doesn't have, you'll find that sometimes the most insightful stuff will come from the least experienced people who haven't been, uh, beaten into submission or have all the, uh, what I would call survivorship bias, all those things that make us feel like we've done things right along the way, just because we ended up in a positive situation. So debriefing is visual and strategy. Number one, for sure.

Sara Nay (06:26): And I think it's gotta be even more important now that people are shifting such virtual environments, cuz you miss a lot of that natural conversation that would come up in an office in person next to each other. And so making a point to continue to have those conversations, even behind the computer screen, I gotta think are more important now than ever before in the business world.

Len Herstein (06:47): A hundred percent. Yeah. I mean our natural instinct, even when we're all together is to just move forward when we have success. It's even more so when we're in the virtual world, because we're so tired of meetings, it's like, we don't want to have one if we don't have to. So it's yeah, we've gotta have this fire drill because stuff went wrong over the weekend and we gotta get together and all that. The last thing we want to do is get everybody together and have another meeting to talk about how things went wrong, right? Yeah. But that's the important time. That's the time that pushes us into complacency is I hate using this termin terminology based on the last few years, but it really is a virus. It sits there waiting for the right conditions, waiting for you to become overconfident, waiting for you to take your eyes off the ball. And that's when it strikes and when it strikes hard, it strikes fast and it's dangerous.

Sara Nay (07:31): Yeah, absolutely. I'll let you shift over to strategy number two. But first I have to say I'm gonna be a Patrick Mahomes cuz I'm a Kansas city chiefs fan.

Len Herstein (07:38): Oh no. I wish you hadn't said that.

Sara Nay (07:42): I know I was in Bronco territory for a long time, but remained, remained faithful.

Len Herstein (07:48): Yeah. Oh boy. All right.

Sara Nay (07:50):

Len Herstein (07:51): Lemme compose myself. See if I

Sara Nay (07:53): Can. Yeah. I threw you off now. You don't even know what we're talking about anymore.

Len Herstein (07:58): The second thing that, that was really important. And again, in the book, there's 10 vigilant strategies all born from law enforcement and our experience there. The second one that I think is super important, that is, is very easy to fall out of when you are having success is being able to what we would call law enforcement, articulate your why articulate your why? What happens when we become successful is we fall into a lot of bad whys because I said so right now, the only people who can say, because I said so, and make it work, are people with power. It only works when. And even then it only works for a certain amount of time. You have children. I, you can say because I said so to your children, as long as they fear you, once they get old enough to realize they can no longer fear you or don't need to fear you anymore, maybe don't need to feel in their heads.

Len Herstein (08:45): They don't need anything from you because I said, so it doesn't work so well anymore. So once there's a balance shift because I said so as a bad why or because we've always done it this way. That's a terrible why or because we can. That's another terrible. Why? Like why for so long before the pandemic, why did airlines charge exorbitant change fees? And now all of a sudden they don't right back then they did it because they could, because everybody did it until someone stopped doing it. And then they all had to rethink, what are we doing here? And how do we make this work? Why did we used to have to pay exorbitant fees to break up with our cell phone company? That was crazy because they could, yeah, those are bad whys. So what you want to be able to do is you want to articulate a why that actually connects with your true purpose.

Len Herstein (09:31): You need to understand your purpose in business. We talk a lot about mission and vision. What I think is the most important statement is your purpose statement. Why are you here? Why are you doing what you're doing beyond just making money. It can't be about making money. Everybody wants to make money, but what are you here to do? What is your purpose? And when you have that purpose, right? And you're able to communicate that to everybody that you work with, everybody that works for you or with you or whatever, all of a sudden. And then when you start thinking about how do I tie everything I do to that? Why? Right? Your, why being your purpose, everything starts to make more sense. If your purpose is to gouge your customers, then yeah. I'm taking exorbitant change fees. That makes sense. But I'm assuming that's not their purpose, but a lot of companies and a lot of people don't and this works in life too.

Len Herstein (10:19): Just personally, what is your purpose? Why are you here? What kind of legacy do you want to leave? A great example of how this translates into what we do is I had the extreme benefit of being able to, I was invited to a friend of mine's birthday party. I, his friend has, has done very well for himself and he threw himself a 50th birthday party on Richard island, Richard Branson's private island, Necker island, which is in the British Virgin islands. Now I would've never gone there on my own. I could never afford that. I was lucky enough and fortunate enough, first of all, I'm just lucky enough to have this person as a friend in my life, but also fortunate enough that, that I was able to have this experience. When you go to Necar island, you, you, you quickly find out that everybody that works on that island, there's only 48 guests at one time on this entire island.

Len Herstein (11:03): Everybody who works on that island understands their purpose. They under they're able to articulate their why. So one time you need golf carts to move around the, uh, the island. I needed a golf cart to take me from point a to point B. There was a maintenance man paint doing some painting. And I said, Hey, do you mind? Could you call somebody? And he put down his paint. He said, I'm not gonna call anybody. Let's go. I've gotta, I've gotta, I've got a maintenance card outside, hop in. I'll take you wherever you want to go. He understood that his purpose was not painting. He understood that his purpose was not maintenance. He understood that his why was to make the customers, the guest experience as positive as possible, no matter what that meant. And he had the autonomy and the discretion to drop what he was doing, which means that he was being communicated to that from above that this was his purpose.

Len Herstein (11:53): He understood that purpose and he was able to, because he could articulate his, why he knew what he had to do. We should all learn from that. We should all understand what is our why. And when we do things and we find ourselves getting into positions where our whys are, because I said so, because I can, because we've always done it this way, understand that those are wrong. Whys. Those are complacent, whys. Those are whys that we can do because we're successful. But that success is not gonna last forever. And eventually that's gonna come back and bite us. So being able to truly articulate your why, putting in the effort into what your purpose is, an incredibly efficient and effective way to fight complacency with vis.

Sara Nay (12:29): Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's gonna make your whole team more impactful and better results ultimately for your clients in the end, because they understand the purpose and the why and what you're doing. So I love it. Thank you so much for sharing Lynn. If people want to grab a copy of your broker, connect with you online, where can they do that?

Len Herstein (12:44): The book is called be vigilant strategies to stop complacency, improved performance and safeguard success. The best way place to do it is on Amazon. You can get it on Amazon or Barnes and noble, wherever you buy your eBooks or anything like that. It's available on hard cover and paperback. And you can also, uh, find it at Len Herstein, L E N H E R S T E I N. Dot com. You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Len Herstein or pretty much anything you wanna do at Len Herstein. And I'd love to hear from you.

Sara Nay (13:12): Awesome. Thank you so much for being here and thank you all for listening to the agency podcast is.



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