Looking back on his extraordinary career of 35 years, NASCAR legend Richard Petty noted that during his first 20 years of racing, he had an excellent record of winning. For example, he won the Daytona 500 seven times. However, in the late 1970s, his career went into a decline from which it never recovered. Other racing teams had gone high-tech, refining their cars with sophisticated engineering, while the Petty team was set in its ways.

"We'd been winning steadily for 20 years and decided we wouldn't change," Petty said.

Petty, one of the greatest racers in history, ended his career without a win in his last eight years. Lesson learned: Resistance to change and complacency can defeat any person or organization, no matter how talented.

I've seen plenty of businesses, large and small, rest on their laurels only to be lulled into a coma. It's tempting to go along with the tried and true — if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose," said Bill Gates. That's why success can be a breeding ground for complacency. People and organizations become content, satisfied and comfortable — too comfortable — in the way they do things.

Complacency can happen to everyone. It doesn't matter how large or small the company or individual.

Norman Augustine, former chairman of Lockheed Martin, told a story about one of his company's electronics facilities in Orlando, where "complacency started to infect one of our manufacturing processes."

He said: "Occasionally, parts were omitted from component kits prepared for assembly and inspection at another factory. Each missing part disrupted the assembly process and frustrated the workers assembling the products. I borrowed an idea from an automobile dealer in Dallas I had heard about. The dealer received few complaints from customers because he gave them the home telephone numbers of the mechanics who worked on their cars. I arranged for workers to include their names, work phone numbers, and self-addressed postcards in the kits they prepared. Complaints dropped precipitously."

All these examples describe corporate complacency. But the problem also hits individuals. In this job climate, sometimes it feels safer to stay put, even when your job or company isn't meeting your goals or needs. While security is a good thing, you also have to consider what it's doing to your future.

Is your career on the right track? Is it progressing as you planned? If you've been in the same place for a while, think about these items:

Contentment. The most important consideration when making career judgments is whether you're happy. If you feel good about going to work each day, you've found your niche.

Development. Have you kept up your professional skills and credentials? You should continue striving to enhance your marketability.

Environment. Are you in a stable organization that will serve your needs well for the foreseeable future?

It's fine to be comfortable. It's great to be content. But when those translate to being complacent, it's time to take stock, before your stock is worthless.

Mackay's Moral: When on the ladder of success, don't step back to admire your work.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.