“Sliding down the slippery slope of mediocrity.”

David Ogilvy


Turn on television on any given weekend in the United States and you have a very high probability of finding the movie The Replacements at some point. While the movie, at its core, is about taking for granted what you have versus taking advantage of opportunities, tucked within the movie is what I call “the quicksand moment.”

This is the scene where the coach asks the players their greatest fear and the quarterback says “quicksand.”

Businesses get stuck in quicksand all the time. Shit. People do too. What makes it worse is that most times you know how to play the game well, in fact, you may have actually been playing it well at the time so the first thing that goes wrong is just a blip.

“Just one thing” is what you say.

Then another thing happens.

Then another.

You fight back alone and sink.


Someone notices (usually management) and they help you fight back.


The first response almost every business has to a problem is “more resources”. Oh. That is the first sign you have fallen into quicksand. As Brooks pointed out in the Mythical Man Month, even on projects, our first instinct is to add more people. This only makes everything even slower and more dysfunctional.

If that fails, the second response is usually even more resources.

You sink deeper.


On a personal level this comes to fruition in “I’ll stay later or get in early.” You are on the edge of quicksand. You see added resources as “more time.” So, you put in more time. And more time. And this is where fear enters. You know you are trying hard; you know you are doing right things and, yet, it still keeps going wrong.

You are sinking despite all the effort.

And then you can’t breathe.

Organizational quicksand.


Quicksand and slippery slopes share some similar characteristics.

The first is that you don’t know you are in, or on, them until its too late.

The second is what I call “just this once” behavior.

It is absolutely easy to compromise – in business and in life. “Just this once.” An exception. And then another.

And before you know it you are on that slippery slope.

Regardless. This is a Life and business lesson. So, let’s just call it “truth.” It’s a truth about work, effort, decisions, compromise, lies (or “half-truths”) and almost anything else I can think of.

Slippery slopes are incredibly easy to step onto AND get stuck on. What do I mean?

“Just this once” you say to yourself when you are tired. Whatever the decision or action we are discussing, to you, in the moment … it is mentally “an exception”.

“Just this once” when you are asked a question and you ponder your answer and maybe you embellish a bit.

“Just this once” you say to yourself when you put off that thing you wanted to do. A workout. A chore. A book. A project. A diet. A decision.

“Just this once” you say to yourself when it is a silly rule or what you are doing isn’t really unethical, but its not 100% ethical, it’s just in the margins of “okay to do.”

Before you know it <after some “just this onces“> you have edged on to that slippery slope. Once has become many and, well, many becomes the standard.

Business is funny that way. Its sneaky. It permits you to look at things in a mutually exclusive way so that you don’t really see the accumulation of events and decisions until you have sunk.




Written by Bruce