Andy Grove: "Only the paranoid survive"

Friday, Oct 16, 2009

Andy Grove was the third employee at Intel, and subsequently President, then CEO, and then Chairman and CEO, and helped Intel re-focus on microprocessors, revolutionizing technology.

I'm often credited with the motto, "Only the paranoid survive." I have no idea when I first said this, but the fact remains that, when it comes to business, I believe in the value of paranoia. Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. The more successful you are, the more people want a chunk of your business and then another chunk and then another until there is nothing left.

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A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.

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Strategic inflection points... build up force so insidiously that you may have a hard time even putting a finger on what has changed, yet you know that something has.

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You can be the subject of a strategic inflection point but you can also be the cause of one. Intel, where I work, has been both. In the mid-eighties, the Japanese memory producers brought upon us an inflection point so overwhelming that it forced us out of memory chips and into the relatively new field of microprocessors. The microprocessor business that we have dedicated ourselves to has since gone on to cause the mother of all inflection points for other companies, bringing very difficult times to the classical mainframe computer industry. Having both been affected by strategic inflection points and having caused them, I can safely say that the former is tougher.

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It doesn't matter where you live. Long distances used to be a moat that both insulated and isolated people from workers on the other side of the world. But every day, technology narrows that moat inch by inch. Every person in the world is on the verge of becoming both a coworker and a competitor to every one of us.

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The lessons of dealing with strategic inflection points are similar whether you're dealing with a company or your own career. If you run a business, you must recognize that no amount of formal planning can anticipate such changes. Does that mean you shouldn't plan? Not at all. You need to plan the way a fire department plans: It cannot anticipate where the next fire will be, so it has to shape an energetic and efficient team that is capable of responding to the unanticipated as well as to any ordinary event.

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As these companies struggle to adapt, the methods of doing business that worked very well for them for decades are becoming history. Companies that have had generations of employees growing up under a no-layoff policy are now dumping 10,000 people onto the street at a crack. The sad news is, nobody owes you a career. Your career is literally your business. You own it as a sole proprietor. You have one employee: yourself. You are in competition with millions of similar businesses: millions of other employees all over the world. You need to accept ownership of your career, your skills and the timing of your moves. It is your responsibility to protect this personal business of yours from harm and to position it to benefit from the changes in the environment. Nobody else can do that for you.

Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive: Book Preface, 1996, http://www.intel.com/pressroom/kits/bios/grove/paranoid.htm.