You’re most likely familiar with the term “half-life,” as in the half-life of a radioactive isotope. The half-life measures the time required for the isotope to decay to half its strength. With each half-life, the radioactive level weakens by half. I have often applied a similar concept to my personal and business life, i.e., the “half-life of a champion.”
Let’s set the stage. You, your boss, or maybe an associate, champion new technology, a new process, or a new concept. The concept develops and becomes a success with viable results, spurred on by the champion’s work. Then, the champion “disappears.” He may be promoted to a new job or move to a new endeavor as a reward for his success. She may find another concept that she feels more compelled to champion. The point is, the champion is gone. His departure creates a void in the leadership that guided the new concept to success. Her involvement could have led to technical work to study and develop the idea or the vision and drive for the original concept. It could also have led to the sponsorship that gave the concept the fuel and support to make it happen. Whatever the benefit or contribution was, the champion was the key to success. With the champion’s departure, who will take over the responsibility with the same vision, drive, knowledge, or passion for continuing its success? Without the champion or a suitable successor, the concept probably begins to decline, is slowly replaced by a new concept with a new champion, or falls dormant. Its contribution and its duration decay depending on the strength and resilience of the concept; its half-life. Ergo its life-cycle becomes associated with the half-life of the champion.
The brunt of the concept development stays with or falls on the champion. So, when the champion moves on, there is no one with the same conviction or passion for doing the work. In many cases, the champion did not share their full knowledge or development workload with other associates. Maybe the champion had a massive ego and the need to control the development and garner success. Perhaps it’s that concept projects are not staffed by many people, and those assigned to it also have other workloads and responsibilities. Many times, the champion’s successor has his projects, favorites, or agenda he wishes to champion. Unless the concept has been fully vetted, developed, and built to a self-preservation level, it will decline. This is where the half-life of a champion comes into play. How long will the concept survive? What is its half-life?
It is difficult to find a successor to be a successful “successor-champion.” The champion, or champions in the case of a team, had the true vision and passion to develop and see their concept reach a successful plateau.
All too many great technologies, processes, concepts fall prey to this half-life of the champion syndrome. It causes many businesses substantial incurred costs that do not receive their due return on investment. The few that succeed have reached an elevated plateau where they are self-sustaining. Champions can take steps to transfer the concept vitality and knowledge to a broader base of potential successors by sharing more responsibility and knowledge during the concept development process so that its value and success are more tangible for future purview.
Another option is to take steps to extend the half-life of the concept. Ultimately all concepts are developed and implemented to benefit some end-user, i.e., a customer who will benefit from the concept’s continuation. To extend the half-life, make sure these customers are intimately involved in the development process, want the idea to succeed for their benefit, and take ownership of the concept, thus ensuring its longevity and continued success. Of course, the half-life of these customers also becomes a variable in the project's overall longevity and vitality. If these customer-champions can not be developed, the original concept may have an extremely short half-life.
Are you a champion? How can you make your legacy half-life of a champion stronger and less susceptible to decay?
This blog was written by Tip Goodwin. Mr. Goodwin is a consultant and has been a Member of the ANSI C119 Standards Committee for more than 15 years.