"When you are at the top of the world, the most powerful nation on earth, the most successful company in your industry, the best player in your game, your very power and success might cover up the fact that you’re already on the path to decline.  So, how would you know?"

This question is the foundation of Jim Collins’ new book, How The Mighty Fall.  The back cover contains this statement:

Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.

Between those two quotes is a heck of a book, one that every law firm leader should be reading. But Collins tells a story that illustrates the point of the book better than merely stating the point ever could:

On a cloudless August day in 2002, my wife, Joanne, and I set out to run the long uphill haul to Electric Pass, outside Aspen, Colorado, which starts at an altitude of about 9,800 feet and ends above 13,000 feet.  At about 11,000 feet, I capitulated to the thin air and slowed to a walk, while Joanne continued her uphill assault. As I emerged from the tree line, where thin air limits vegetation to scruffy shrubs and hardy mountain flowers, I spotted her far ahead in a bright-red sweatshirt, running from switchback to switchback toward the summit ridge.  Two months later, she received a diagnosis that would lead to two mastectomies.  I realized, in retrospect, that at the very moment she like the picture of health pounding her way up Electric Pass, she must have already been carrying the carcinoma.  That image of Joanne, looking healthy yet already sick, stuck in my mind and gave me a metaphor.

It takes something extraordinary to escape the tendencies that cause people to turn a blind eye to the warning signs, to excuse the signs of decline, to refuse to apply the critical analytical skills that most lawyers possess in such abundance.  Those that escape these tendencies have a chance to avoid the fall.