Innovation

Decision-Making for Success: Platinum Problems and The Gifts That Keep on Giving (Part 1)

In my world, there are two categories of problems:
  • Platinum Problems*, and
  • The Gifts that Keep on Giving.
Both are good - but only if you make them good. Otherwise, they make you nuts - and lead you to make bad decisions.

In this post, I'll talk about the first category, Platinum Problems, specifically what they are and how to handle them...before, during and after.

Platinum Problems

Things are going great. They're better than you could have ever imagined. Everything is moving well and quickly. You're growing. You're thriving. You're succeeding.

Welcome to the world of Platinum Problems.

On the surface - and particularly for those outside your function, department or organization - all it looks like is good. To a great extent, that's how it looks to you, too.

Why should you look at it differently?

Because when everything is 'great,' you make different decisions and, most importantly, you make them differently. Suddenly, rather than working from a position of scarcity, you're surrounded by abundance that seems as if it will never end.

It's that last part...the 'as if it will never end' bit...that turns these marvelous opportunities into their counterpart, The Gifts That Keep on Giving. (We'll get to those in the next post.)

The risk in Platinum Problem decision-making is that you and your people forget what it took to get you to 'great' and, instead of continuing doing what you do so well, you start doing other things. You buy. You expand. You hire. And you do it fast...because, after all, you have to keep up with everything that's being asked of you by the outside world.

Most importantly, as a result of all that pressure from the outside world, you stop thinking and you start reacting.

It takes a lot of time, energy and thinking to build success. You and everyone else in your enterprise have to be fully engaged to get there. You innovate. You question. You create. You build.

When, seemingly suddenly, you're a success, the tendency is to stop doing those things. Instead you simply do more of what you've done. You don't do new and different that keeps your current customers happy and creates whole new markets at the same time.

You rest on your laurels without even knowing you're doing so.

Think Starbucks and the way they had to reverse their expansion and the many years it took to put them back on track. Think Sony and how they lost their standing as the leader in consumer electronics and are still trying to regain that status.

What you see is a "Success Arc" that takes the company and/or its products and services from inception to success to failure - unless it's caught in time.

On the other hand, think Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos' acceptance that, someday, even his company will be disrupted by another...just as his disrupted so many large and small organizations and industries.

Bezos treats Amazon's success as a Platinum Problem that has to be solved - and solved again - every day in every customer interaction and management decision that is made.

The Solution

What does this mean for you?

When you see success in your organization, stop, take a deep breath (or a few) and become highly analytical. Specifically, and in this order:
  1. Objectively assess what the enterprise did to create that success.
  2. Identify what, of those systems and actions, need to be continued and grown to ensure new successes beyond the current success (e.g., Amazon's "customer centricity").
  3. Determine what you need to do to address the growing needs for the products and services that have caused the current success.
  4. Ensure that you have the appropriate systems, procedures and risk analysis in place to build the business in the immediate and the long-term without causing undue - or unconscious - harm.
  5. Analyze. Make sure you've got the right metrics in place for the immediate and the future. That way, you know - at every moment - whether you're moving in the right direction.
As you can see, what this system does is takes you out of reaction and puts you immediately into a current response and future expansion mode simultaneously. That way, the Platinum Problems remain platinum...which is exactly what you want.

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*Props to my brother, Sam, for teaching me the expression, Platinum Problems.

Secrets of Success: You're Not Alone

Today, as I was reading the truly excellent OpEd piece on the Business of Fashion site, I was reminded of what always struck me as the stupidest series of questions I almost invariably got when I was a C-level advisor talking with a new client. Here are the two versions of how it went:

Version 1:
Executive: Have you worked in our industry before?
Me: No.
Executive: Well, we're different.
Version 2:
Executive: Have you worked in our industry before?
Me: Yes.
Executive: Well, we're different.
Do you see a pattern here?

The thing that continued to amaze me - and does until this day - is the provincialism and insularity of each industry or company. Everyone thinks that what they're experiencing is different from what everyone else is experiencing.

They're wrong. And if you think that way, you're wrong, too.

Sure, there are nuances that are industry or company-specific. In fact, they're function-specific, if you want to get down to that level of detail - which, eventually, you do.

But to think that you're living in some sort of vacuum and can't learn from other industries about how to get over and beyond humps and hurdles is not only short-sighted, it's dangerous.

Granted, each industry goes through its own version of a set of problems that the industry has to solve for itself. Those within the industry that learn and grow fastest and best are the winners. The laggards either stay that way, have to work WAY harder than before to catch up or go out of business whether through M&A (if they're lucky) or closure.

What's always worth watching is how each industry is addressing, embracing and integrating the challenges it faces. That arc is your lesson.

That's why the Business of Fashion OpEd was so important. It talks about how the "businessmen" in both fashion and media have taken innovation out of fashion. How, by corporate ownership industrializing design to the point of sameness (for which read blandness), real creativity is either threatened, gone or only coming from the really courageous designers or those outside the mainstream industry.

Innovation is everyone's job in every industry and sector. From small, almost unnoticeable tweaks in how you do business to new product or service launches that change the world (or at least your industry), innovation is key to success.

So why wouldn't you read a piece focusing on the threats to innovation written about the luxe industry and fashion, in particular?

If you're smart, you would. In fact, if you intend to succeed, you will.

Don't be insular. Don't think you're different - at least not at first.

Start by knowing that others - before you and currently, in your industry and out - have and are facing the challenges that you face. Then be open to learning from them.

If you do, eventually they'll be learning from you.
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Who Watches the Watchmen? (Business of Fashion)

The Secrets of Success: Stop Whining and Start Changing

A few years ago, I was in one of my clients' offices and saw a sign that looked like this:


Nice thought. Not going to happen - unless something changes. People. Processes. Something.

So, let's talk about whining and change for a moment.

The reason that you or others complain (hopefully not whine) is because you don't like what's going on. Things aren't clear or consistent or rational. Priorities keep changing. You don't think the priorities should be what they are. There are too many politics being played out - all to the detriment of the organization...and possibly your career.

It gets worse.

There are innovations that you and others keep talking about that you want to put into place - but no one listens.

There are products, services and ways of doing business that would make the company more successful, your job easier and your life, in general, more enjoyable - but no one listens to that, either.

Okay, here's the thing. If you find yourself - in your head or out loud - sounding anything like what you just read, it's time to change.

Dissatisfaction is an indicator. But it's on you to make sure that dissatisfaction doesn't escalate into misery - yours or others'.

It just means it's time to change. Because you want to. Because you don't want to be dissatisfied anymore.

Sure there are things you can't control - but, let's face it, the higher-ups in your organization don't have a clue about what you're doing anyway...otherwise they probably wouldn't have let things get into the shape they're in. (You hope.)

So, start changing things. Little things. Then bigger things. Don't wait for permission - and, seriously, don't wait for some sort of organizational initiative that promises the world. It won't deliver.

And, whatever you do, don't wait for or count on consultants. They're really not going to solve your problem.

It's on you. Just as you do at home - where you're CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, CIO and more - if you don't like it, change it.

Do it in increments. Try things. Get others to join in the fun.

Every time a whine occurs, say, "Yeah, fine, but what's the answer?" Then, with the whiner in tow, say, "Okay, so, how about if we try...? And, no, we don't have to go ask permission. They may say 'no.' Let's just fix it."

If they're game, good. That's someone you want to stick with. If they're not game, lose them. They enjoy whining. It makes them happy. So, get them out of your way.

Which leads us to the last part of this particular secret: Look at yourself objectively the next time you find yourself whining. Because you may be a happy whiner - in which case, get the hell out of everyone else's way.

You may be happy being miserable, but there are lots more folks out there who are most happy when they're engaged, fixing things and being rewarded for their efforts.

Innovation and Productivity: How's Your Infrastructure?

When you think about infrastructure, you tend to think roads and bridges. That's because the talking heads who talk politics always put infrastructure in that context.

As far as that goes, it's correct.

But, if you look at all the components of infrastructure - and then apply them to your organization - what you quickly see is that those "roads and bridges" are representative of how you and your organization are getting where you're trying to go.

What are you building? And how?

What are your policies and procedures? Are you consistently looking for opportunities to become more effective and efficient? Measurably?

Do you listen to your employees? Do you give them a chance to contribute and feedback information about the obstacles they face...without you becoming defensive?

How well trained are your employees? By whom? Are you ensuring your employees have all the knowledge and skill they need to demonstrate the ability you're looking for from them?

Do you have systems for innovation and expanded participation? Do you regularly work to collect new ideas from your employees, customers and suppliers that lead to new products, services and ways of doing business?

What you'll find is that the less you pay attention to those questions, the more organizational traffic jams you create and the slower your organization is able to perform and deliver. (Think the LA Freeway system in the heart of rush hour and you'll get my drift.)

Take some time to observe the infrastructure you've got. Then build the roads and bridges you need in your organizational infrastructure to create the success you always envisioned.

You'll definitely get where you want to go...because you'll have built what it takes to get there.

Disruptive Heroes: My Interview with Bill Jensen

Yesterday, I did an interview with Bill Jensen (aka, Mr. Simplicity) for his new series on Disruptive Heroes.

In it, I got the chance to talk about W. Edwards Deming, unleashing employee capability, Paris, Twitter, strobic thinking and my attitude toward life - which was a lot of ground to cover in six minutes!

Bill is always a joy and always asks challenging questions. After you take a look at this edited version of my interview, make sure you go visit his site on the 100 Great Disruptive Heroes.