The Story of Icarus and Steady Improvement

March 03, 2020

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flying too high

Do you know the story of Icarus? And how it can help you or your organization succeed and stay on track?


There is much to learn regarding continuous improvement leadership from the story of Icarus, which emerges from Greek mythology that tells us about a father, Daedalus, and his son, Icarus, who are imprisoned on the island of Crete. With no way to escape by land or sea, Daedalus, a true craftsman, designs and fashions wings for him and his son to escape using bird feathers he gathered and wax.


As they prepare to depart, the father warns his son not too fly too high, less the heat from the sun will melt the wax and the wings will fall apart. He also warns of flying too low, less the moisture from the waters will soak the feathers and make them unable to use.


You can predict what maybe could happen here.


Icarus of course doesn’t heed his father’s advice and with his new found ability to fly, soars high with his new found confidence, too high and the Sun does melt the wax, causing Icarus’s wings to fall apart and he tumbles to his death in the sea.


What can we learn from Icarus?


We have talked about ego in a recent Elevate edition, as the state of being overly confident and how it can lead to downfall. We see Icarus of course, with his granted ability to fly, become overly confident and fly too high, even though advised not too. We see this in our selves when we become too arrogant and push limits or risks a bit too much. Maybe we had a string of wins or successes, and we feel overly confident to keep pushing, we want more, and sometimes this doesn’t end well. We see the same with organizations as well, who maybe take too many risks. Ego and over confidence can cause you to stumble.


There is the other side as well, Icarus didn’t do it, but his father said, don’t fly too low or the water will soak the wings. When you think of “flying low”, it can mean staying below radar or just cruising to get by. Taking it easy, because it can feel safe. This can be just as dangerous, as it means looking to stay comfortable as well. The same outcome can happen. Your wings get wet and you fall into the ocean. Success can also lead you to “fly low”, ride that wave of success as long as you can, don’t take any risks, and just keep things status quo. How many companies have we seen go that path and end up going out of business or being acquired? How many people do this as well with their careers or businesses?


The story of Icarus is a good calibration story for us. Flying too high and driving with ego can cause us to stumble with a faster downward spiral. Conversely, flying too low and staying comfortable won’t bring us sustained success and instead will likely lead to a slower downward spiral.


How about you. Are you flying too high or too low?


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