I tend to be an extremely loyal person.
Long after friendships have died out and have no reason for existing anymore, I'll still try to re-connect and ask about the latest news. One time, in college, a friend from high school came over to visit me in my dorm room.
"I'm not really sure why we're still friends," he said. I never saw him again.
Yes, loyalty can be a fault. It's hard when you are so hyper-focused on work or overly committed to some random new obsession to pay attention to the fact that this thing you are aligned to is no longer aligned to you. They've gone perpendicular and you're still a square. The reason why the phrase even exists (no one knows where it originated) is that people don't realize it's OK to move on to some other business partnership or explore some other new avenue of success. They are stuck looking in one direction while the object of their interest is no longer interested.
And, there's another problem. Loyalty is overrated. You may be a card-carrying member of the Starbucks rewards program but, as a coffee chain, they barely know you exist. And that problem plays out in many relationships at work as well. When you are extremely loyal, you end up over-focusing on something or someone that is not showing the same loyalty back to you. Some relationships, particularly in marriage, have equal amounts of loyalty and that's invaluable (not to mention rewarding and fulfilling), but in business, there is barely an advantage to being so loyal. That's why it doesn't make sense to be loyal to a brand or an idea or even a person at times because it's not reciprocal. There are times when you need to break from the idea, the brand, or the person because that's a smart decision.
One of the main reasons why a business fails is because someone was overly loyal and refused to adjust and change. A business owner gets stuck insisting that there is only one way to sell a new gadget or there is only one person who is good at handling the customer support lines. It's the loyalty that ends up creating the friction. It's the loyalty that prevents a company from pivoting and trying something new.
There are times when it is better to hold loosely to something because, in modern work culture, you either adjust quickly or you fail quickly.
So why do so many people show loyalty if it doesn't really work?
This is the part where it isn't really your fault. You show loyalty because it's a human reaction. Think about it. Growing up, we all were taught to be loyal to the team, loyal to our siblings, loyal to our culture. Even from a young age, we are taught to be loyal at all times. That's why I know so many Minnesota Vikings fans even though the team is not exactly winning any championships. That's why companies who make a big bet on a trend sometimes keep throwing money at a new product after the trend has died. It's good to be loyal in normal life. In business, it can be major detriment.
Even more puzzling is that we tend to show loyalty to things long after the object of our affection has changed into something completely different (or has even died). That's why there are highly active Twitter accounts for dead celebrities, dead athletic teams, dead retail chains, and dead concepts. We don't like letting go because that act of letting go is considered a sign of poor character. We stay loyal because a bad idea is wound so tightly into our thought process we don't know it's a bad idea.
Then there are the outliers. One of the reasons some companies seem to excel more than others is that they break from this notion that we should remain loyal to something for a long period of time. What if you don't? What if it doesn't really make sense anymore to have hotels or taxis? What if it's better to store your files on a server in Iceland and not on your own laptop? You might even define innovation this way: Disloyalty to an idea in order to create something truly original.
Every amazing company decided to break their allegiance to an idea. Every single one. They're all traitors! They all made a pivot away from something that wasn't working to discover something that is working, and it led to a major windfall.
Here's my question for you. Think about something right now that is receiving your allegiance and loyalty. Does it make sense to stay loyal? Is it reciprocal? If you broke the loyalty to an idea, a brand, or even a person, would it lead to better things.
To be clear, I'm not advocating divorce. Keep going to Starbucks. In everyday relationships with people, stay loyal. What I'm saying is that there are times in business when you loyalty is the one thing that is causing a roadblock. To keep making progress, you might need to make an exit and find a different route.