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Defining Success (or how to gamble the right way)

13 Feb

I was watching Storage Wars the other night (don’t judge me) and one of the featured buyers/characters made the comment that the day was a bust because he didn’t get any of the lockers.  And it struck me that this person (“the gambler”) was looking at it from completely the wrong perspective.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of Storage Wars, a brief tutorial – when people don’t pay their fees on a storage locker for a certain amount of time, these lockers are considered abandoned and are offered up for auction.  The bidders are not allowed to enter the locker or touch any contents – they get about 2 minutes to look inside and make a snap decision about bidding.

As you might have guessed, not all of these storage units are “winners”.  Units that look like they are full of high quality boxes have been known to be filled with old newspapers.  Occasionally there is a gem found among the lockers (old baseball cards, jewelry, rare books), but more often than not the bidders may only make $100 or even lose money on the deal.

gamblingwiththedevilSo, back to “the gambler’s” comment that bothered me so much.   Like most businesses, the storage racket would appear to live by the “buy low – sell high” philosophy, only in this situation, the buying is a very chancy proposition, indeed.  In that particular episode, a number of the lockers went for $2,000+ – pretty tight margins for someone who relies on buying other people’s abandoned stuff.  So wouldn’t you think that you might define success as making smart buying decisions and knowing when to NOT buy something?

A lot of leaders think like “the gambler” (and yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to be singing the song to yourself at this point).  They define success as having a finished product, whether it’s a PowerPoint deck, software roll out, or a company-wide reorg – even if one of these is a bad idea.  Or they define success as “winning” a conversation, shouting down the whole room and having the last word – even if it means abandoning the game plan.  Sometimes success means NOT taking action – but you wouldn’t know that if you haven’t taken the time to think about it.

Leadership is a bit of a gamble at times.  You don’t always know how your decisions will turn out.   Good analysis may suggest a course of action, but then you find out the data was inaccurate.  Depending on your hiring process, those candidates may look like a promising storage unit that you bid on, only to find out the fancy storage trunk hid a bunch of mold.  We stay in it, though, for that occasional hidden treasure that experience and research tells us should be a good bet.  The key is defining success the right way and sticking to it.  A few thoughts:

  • If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right: Have you REALLY defined what success looks like, or are you relying on a flash of insight, a vague pie chart, or a dream you had last night?  Do your homework, conduct some analysis, and define what success means…and stick to it!
  • You gotta know when to hold ‘em: Sometimes things start as clunkers (employees, projects, lunch plans).  But if your plan is sound and you keep the long-term goal in mind (success!), it’s worth waiting it out a little bit.  Don’t give up because you hit one road block.
  • Know when to fold ‘em: Conversely, don’t keep throwing good money after bad.  This really is gambling and typically doesn’t end well for anyone. (Click here for a recent post about knowing when to pull the plug).
  • Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table: Okay, I really just wanted to use all the lyrics, but hear me out.  Don’t assume you’re a success just because you had a good week, just as you shouldn’t assume you failed because you had a bad day.  Stick to the plan and remember your definition of success.  Wait until all the cards on the table before declaring something was a waste of time.

Listen, if everything was a sure bet, it wouldn’t be any fun.  Just be careful that you don’t substitute smart thinking with chasing the “gambler’s high”, remembering that ONE time that your gut was right.  Whether you’re a CEO, an entry-level analyst, or a dude who makes money buying abandoned storage units, your long term prosperity and general well-being relies on your ability to define success in a way that’s right for the business…and remembering it in times of frustration.

And THAT’S an ace that you can keep*.

*With apologies to Kenny Rogers

Ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
‘Cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Clarity, Decision Making

 

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