The benefits of strategically balancing exploitation and exploration are well documented in the literature. Nonetheless, many firms tend to overemphasize exploitation efforts, a situation commonly referred to as the ‘success trap’. Previous studies have attributed this behaviour to managerial incompetence or myopia. However, some management teams appear to adequately recognize the exploration need, while not being able to bring about the required strategic change. We draw on system dynamics modelling to investigate this phenomenon. A simulation model is developed and then the behaviour of a selected firm is replicated to uncover the underlying processes. As such, we develop a process theory of the success trap at the managerial level, coined the ‘suppression process’. This process theory describes and explains how the interplay between top managers, board members, and exploitation–exploration activities can trap the firm in the suppression of exploration.