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.

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

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In and Preparing Yourself for Success

This is the first in a series of articles I'm writing about women in business, the lessons of Lean In and, particularly, how you can help build your career and a healthier workplace. For women, the lessons will be immediately understandable and applicable. For men, this will explain a lot of the dynamics you see around you. For all, it's information on which you can immediately act. I look forward to your comments, thoughts and experiences.
It's been a year since I wrote about the ways that women actively undermine other women and how crucial it is that that behavior stops.

Based on Jodi Kantor's recent article in the New York Times, not only was she not listening, but the behavior is alive, well and thriving.

Interestingly, the target is the same as last year (Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook), and even though it's different people taking their shots, the tactics they use remain the same as well.

What makes this particularly heinous is the context of the attack. Ms. Sandberg has taken the message of her TEDTalk (which has netted over 2 million views) and turned it into a book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Moreover, she has simultaneously established the Lean In Foundation - giving women the tools and skills they need to take themselves and society - worldwide - to the next level at no fee to themselves.

Yes, that's right. She's making sure that women who aspire, have dreams and have been stymied by themselves, others and the system at large (basically, every woman) now will be given a world class curriculum of skills and support to help them fulfill themselves and achieve their dreams.

You'd think that women who have already achieved success would cheer Ms. Sandberg for her efforts. No. At least not in Ms. Kantor's and her crew's case. Instead, using incomplete information, inference and personal attack, they do their best to undermine Ms. Sandberg and what she's offering the world - even before either the book or Foundation launch.

So, since these are, unfortunately, too common (and, frankly, lazy) tactics, let's take a look at how Ms. Kantor did it in her article. That way, as you achieve your goals, you'll see the game as it's being perpetrated against you (which it will be), take the right actions (which in many cases is none) and, generally, feel sorry for the perpetrator. (We'll get to why in a bit.) 

Tactic 1: Incomplete Information 

Let's start with two facts:
  1. At the time of this writing, neither the book nor the Foundation are live yet, and
  2. Ms. Sandberg both founded and funded the Foundation.

So, when Ms. Kantor casts aspersions about what is being asked of the launch partner organizations - name brands like Sony, American Express, Johnson & Johnson and Google - she's offensive to the companies and their leaders by demeaning the letter and spirit of their participation.

Do Ms. Kantor's assertions have substantive merit? No. Are they a handy tactic? Yes. Because even before the launch has occurred, she's doing her best to make those organizations' leaders question their partnerships and the impact it will have on their brands.

The good news is: It won't work.

New organizations grow and evolve. As needs develop, they respond - at least the smart ones do. As time goes on, the involvement of the Foundation's partner organizations will also evolve based on ideas generated by the Lean In Circles, the partners, themselves, and the Foundation, at large.

So not only is this tactic substantively shortsighted (which the partner organizations' leaders know - if they're even paying attention to what Ms. Kantor wrote), but it's boring and lazy - because the only thing the perpetrators using this tactic are doing is replaying the old adage, "The best defense is a good offense." 

You'd think they'd come up with something new - which they sort of do when combined with... 

Tactic 2: Inference

Let's remember who we're talking about here. Sheryl Sandberg has a resume of public and private sector achievements that do one thing most clearly: they show that she is both successful in her own right and knows how to create success for others. 

I apologize for the repetition but at this moment, the Foundation hasn't launched yet. So why is Ms. Kantor asking if anyone will come to the Lean In Circles - and if they do, will they get anything out of the experience and want to come back? 

Worse, why is she using the pilot Circle participants as targets - just as she did the partner organizations?

The Circles are the heart of the Foundation. They're the outreach. They're where a progressive, structured curriculum of skills training and interpersonal support are delivered. They're treated as the learning environments they are - while designed for a generation that engages and connects in ways that older generations of women (like mine) either didn't or couldn't because we didn't have the opportunity.

Lean In Circles are not a coffee klatch, a 'consciousness raising' group or sitting around a campfire singing "Kumbaya." They're a commitment - by the Foundation to the women involved and by the women involved to themselves and their Circle members.

So, in direct answer to Ms. Kantor's question: Yes, women will come to the Circles and when they do, they'll learn and grow. Then grow more. 

BTW, there was another aspect of this tactic that was at play in Ms. Kantor's playbook: If you can't take on your target directly - or you don't think you'll win if you do - get someone else to fight it for you. Cat fight, anyone? Yes, to read Ms. Kantor's article is to wait for any number of her cohorts to join in the fun of trying to make the success of Ms. Sandberg's book and Foundation - and, by extension, the women involved - failures before they even begin.

That's not only wrong, it's shameful, especially when tied to... 

Tactic 3: Personal Attack

We already know that Ms. Kantor had no hesitation in attacking the partner organizations and the pilot Lean In Circle members. But she didn't stop there.

Ms. Sandberg is taking the women's movement to a new level for a new generation. What the trailblazers of the movement did for their time is what Ms. Sandberg is now doing for women in a world that has evolved to provide more opportunities - and obstacles - than ever before.

Why, then, does Ms. Kantor think we need to know about the size of Ms. Sandberg's home ("9000 square feet"), her education ("double Harvard degree"), her wealth ("a fortune worth hundreds of millions on paper"), her husband (CEO of SurveyMonkey) or her "army of household help"?

We don't. It has nothing to do with the message that Ms. Sandberg is bringing. But it's a handy - and, once again, lazy - way to undermine that message by making the messenger a less than trustworthy source.

That way, even before the Lean In Foundation has launched or the book has been released, the seed has been planted: Since you don't have what Ms. Sandberg has, what she's offering won't do you any good.

That's wrong - on so many different levels - which takes us to...

Why You Should Feel Sorry for Women Who Attack Other Women 

In a word: they're scared.

They may be scared that they can't compete. They may not believe that their skills will get them where they want to go. They may be afraid to aspire. To dream. To be disappointed.
Ultimately, their reason doesn't matter - because it has nothing to do with you. It's all about them - and that's the most liberating thing of all.

You are free to aspire and to achieve. You can set your goals and go after them - not feeling the need to take others...and especially other women...down in the process. In fact, you'll share your success.
And to help you along the way, make sure you read the book and look into establishing or joining a Lean In Circle in your area. That way, not only will you have your own skills, but you'll have Sheryl Sandberg supporting you every step of the way. 
Women and Leadership: Sheryl Sandberg and the Facebook IPO (llk)

An earlier version of this article appeared on Technorati (llk)

Teachers, Mentors, Guides: Who Changed Your Career?

Early in my career, I realized that I was not going to be one of those people who had "mentors" or "sponsors." I was too risky a proposition on a number of different levels, so mine was a corporate - and even consulting - career that had more than its fair share of people putting obstacles in my way.

That made those who represented turning points in my career - and particularly in my way of thinking - all the more important and valuable. They, knowingly and unknowingly, expanded my perspective - which led to a broader world view, career opportunities and life experiences I never thought would be mine.

Interestingly, it's been within the last two years - since starting Leadership Quantified - that a new person has been added to the list. The first woman.

For me, the four people are:
  1. Dr. W. Edwards Deming - who taught me that underlying management theory is a humanism that, when incorporated as part of everything from strategic thinking to operational execution, really can lead to joy and motivation and a goodness that workplaces are rarely - or never - known for.
  2. Takeo Minomiya - who taught me that strategy, at its best, turns the world on its head and that, only when you look at things from what would be considered impossible perspectives and proceed without fear can you - or your organization - succeed.
  3. Dr. Leon Lessinger - who taught me that accountability is the highest form of personal and professional respect you can pay yourself, your colleagues and society as a whole - and that, as such, it's both a choice and a measure of integrity.
  4. Sheryl Sandberg - who taught me that the ways women unknowingly undermine themselves - as well as the many ways women unforgivably undermine other women - are not only identifiable, but reversible and that the hope of the women who trailblazed my career can - and will - be achieved in the generations of women now and to come.
That's my crew of career- and life- changers - and I'm grateful to them all.

Now think about those who have played or are playing that role in your life and career - then ask yourself:
  • Which teacher, mentor or guide has helped me see more - and be more?
  • How has what they taught or showed me changed my life? My world view?
  • How have I acted upon what I learned?
  • How am I continuing their teaching by guiding others - whether in conversation, formal mentoring or, simply, in how I lead my life?
Then, if you get the chance, make sure you find a way to say, "Thank you." Not only will they appreciate it, they deserve it.

Can Sony Win Again?

There's a great video report by Reuters on how Sony lost its cool.  The question is: Can it get it back again?

The short answer is: Yes.

This is the dilemma of every company that focuses on "quality" and then commoditizes it into nothing.  That's what happened at Sony.  They lost their focus on creating exquisite, innovative products with an exquisite user experience and went for speed-to-market instead.

This was a multi-faceted mistake.

  • First, for those who trusted the Sony brand, the company has as good as lost that trust - and it's WAY harder to regain trust than it is to establish it.
  • Second, for those who didn't know the brand - most importantly, the young consumer - all they know is that Sony doesn't cut it in experience or innovation.
  • Third, even while they were cutting their quality to near nothing, they kept their prices high.

What that left them with was a company that doesn't produce anything consumers can be excited about buying at too high a price to want to pay for it anyway.

Real good strategy, Sir Howard.

The good news is, the company is going back into the hands of the Japanese.  Their new CEO, Kazuo Hirai, is a "detail" guy, according to Reuters - and that puts the Japanese right back into their comfort zone and where they perform best.

I worked with Sony before Sir Howard Stringer took over as CEO.  Even then, they were looking with awe and envy at what the Silicon Valley was able to achieve - and rightly so.

But, what they forgot in the process is that they do things with their way of doing business that, demonstrably, take markets worldwide.  But only when they work to their strength.

Can anyone say Toyota?

So, good luck Sony.  I'm rooting for you to find your cool again.