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Resting on One's Laurels: Definition, Consequences, and Strategies to Avoid It Thumbnail

Resting on One's Laurels: Definition, Consequences, and Strategies to Avoid It

Becoming complacent and basking in past success is a problem for active investment managers, driven by constant discussions of past performance. Every new potential investor primarily asks what we've done in the past, when they should instead focus on how we did it, and if the strategies, tactics, and performances seem likely to repeat in the future. 

Resting on one's laurels is a phenomenon where individuals or organizations become complacent following past achievements, leading to stagnation and potential decline. This observation explores the historical context, psychological underpinnings, and detrimental impacts of this complacency. It also proposes strategies to maintain momentum and foster continuous growth and innovation.

Resting on one's laurels is a metaphorical expression rooted in ancient Greece and Rome, where laurel wreaths symbolized victory and honor. Today, the phrase describes a state of complacency following significant accomplishments. This paper aims to elucidate the concept, analyze its negative implications, and offer practical solutions to avoid falling into this trap.

The origin of the phrase "resting on one's laurels" dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, where laurel wreaths were awarded to victors in athletic competitions and military commanders who achieved significant victories. These laurels were symbols of honor and success. Over time, the phrase evolved to signify a dangerous complacency, where past achievements are relied upon to the detriment of future growth and development.

Psychological and Organizational Dynamics

Psychological Underpinnings

The tendency to rest on one's laurels can be attributed to several psychological factors:

  1. Confirmation Bias: Individuals tend to focus on information that confirms their success, ignoring areas that need improvement.
  2. Self-Efficacy: High self-efficacy can lead to overconfidence, causing individuals to underestimate future challenges.
  3. Fear of Failure: After achieving success, individuals may fear attempting new challenges to avoid potential failure, leading to inaction.

Organizational Dynamics

In organizational contexts, resting on laurels can manifest in various ways:

  1. Complacency in Innovation: Companies may stop innovating, relying on their previous products or services, which can lead to obsolescence.
  2. Stagnation in Processes: Established procedures and systems may become outdated, leading to inefficiencies.
  3. Leadership Complacency: Leaders who rest on their past achievements may fail to inspire and drive their teams towards new goals.

Consequences of Resting on One's Laurels

The consequences of resting on laurels can be severe for both individuals and organizations:

  1. Loss of Competitive Edge: In rapidly changing environments, past successes can quickly become irrelevant, leading to a loss of market share.
  2. Stagnation and Decline: Without continuous improvement, skills and processes can become outdated, resulting in overall decline.
  3. Reduced Motivation: Complacency can lead to reduced motivation and morale among employees, impacting productivity and innovation.

Strategies to Avoid Resting on Laurels

For Individuals

  1. Setting New Goals: Continuously setting new, challenging goals can help maintain momentum and drive.
  2. Lifelong Learning: Engaging in continuous learning and skill development keeps individuals relevant and adaptable.
  3. Seeking Feedback: Regularly seeking constructive feedback helps identify areas for improvement and prevents complacency.

For Organizations

  1. Fostering a Culture of Innovation: Encouraging creativity and risk-taking can help organizations stay ahead of the curve.
  2. Continuous Improvement Processes: Implementing continuous improvement methodologies, such as Lean or Six Sigma, ensures ongoing optimization of processes.
  3. Leadership Development: Investing in leadership development ensures that leaders are equipped to inspire and drive their teams towards future success.

Case Studies

Apple Inc.

Apple's rise to prominence is a testament to avoiding complacency. Despite significant successes with products like the iPhone, the company continuously innovates, releasing new products and improving existing ones. This commitment to innovation has kept Apple at the forefront of the tech industry.

Blockbuster Video

Conversely, Blockbuster Video's failure exemplifies the dangers of resting on one's laurels. Once a giant in the video rental industry, Blockbuster failed to adapt to the digital revolution and the rise of streaming services. This complacency led to its eventual bankruptcy.


Resting on one's laurels is a common pitfall that can lead to significant negative consequences for both individuals and organizations. Understanding the psychological and organizational dynamics that contribute to this phenomenon is crucial for developing strategies to avoid it. By setting new goals, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and maintaining a commitment to innovation, individuals and organizations can ensure sustained success and relevance in an ever-changing world.


  • Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.
  • Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Harvard Business Review, 69(3), 99-109.
  • Christensen, C. M. (1997). The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the Crisis. MIT Press.
  • Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Portfolio.

This observation provides a comprehensive overview of the concept of resting on one's laurels, highlighting its historical context, psychological and organizational dynamics, and strategies to avoid its pitfalls. Through continuous goal-setting, learning, and innovation, both individuals and organizations can sustain their success and thrive in dynamic environments.