Here’s Why Your Big Idea Will Probably Fail To Survive Victory

Greg Satell
6 min readFeb 25, 2023
Photo by Axel Holen on Unsplash

I still vividly remember a whiskey drinking session I had with a good friend in my flat in Kyiv in early 2005, shortly after the Orange Revolution had concluded. We were discussing what would come after and, knowing that I had lived in Poland during years of reform, he was interested in my opinion about the future. I told him NATO and EU ascension was the way to go.

My friend, a prominent journalist, disagreed. He thought that Ukraine should pursue a “Finnish model,” in which it would pursue good relations with both Russia and the west, favoring neither. As he saw it, the Ukrainian people, who had just been through months of political turmoil, should pursue a “third way” and leave the drama behind.

As it turned out, we were both wrong. The promise of change would soon turn to nightmare, ending with an evil, brutal regime and a second Ukrainian revolution a decade later. I would later find that this pattern is so common that there is even a name for it: the failure to survive victory. To break the cycle you first need to learn to anticipate it and then to prepare for it.

The Thrill Of Success And A New Direction

In the weeks after the Orange Revolution I happened to be in Warsaw and saw a huge banner celebrating democracy movements in Eastern Europe, with Poland’s Solidarity movement as the first and Ukraine’s Orange revolution as the last in the series. Everyone thought that Ukraine would follow its neighbor into peace and prosperity.

We were triumphant and it seemed like the forces of history were on our side. That’s one reason why we failed to see the forces that were gathering. Despite our enthusiasm, those who opposed our cause didn’t just melt away and go home. In fact they redoubled their efforts to undermine what we had achieved. We never really saw it coming.

I see the same thing in my work with organizational transformations. Once people get a taste of that initial success — they win executive sponsorship for their initiative, get a budget approved or even achieve some tangible progress on the ground — they think it will all get easier. It never does. In fact, it usually gets harder.

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Greg Satell

Co-Founder: ChangeOS | Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Wharton Lecturer, HBR Contributor, - Learn more at www.GregSatell.com