It May Be Your Problem Even If It’s Not Your Fault.

You’ll be amazed to find out that I’m referencing a podcast today that’s not from Gretchen Rubin. My husband and I are huge fans of the Freakonomics franchise, the series of books and podcasts by the team of economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner who have made a career of challenging conventional wisdom about how markets and incentives actually work.They’ve just finished up a series of four broadcasts about the secret lives of CEO’s, people who often have to deal with situations not of their making, things that are not their fault. For instance, the CEO of PepsiCo is having to deal with the fact that the public is less and less interested in sugary drinks and junky snacks. Well, leaving aside the whole idea of whether or not Pepsi should have been selling this stuff in the first place, and whether or not taking that CEO position was a good idea, the podcast makes the point that Indra Nooyi had to solve the problem of a changing culture, even though she’d had nothing to do with that culture change. She also had to deal with the global financial crisis of 2008, and she sure wasn’t to blame for that, either. But, as she says, you take the situation as it is and you deal with it. (And even if it is your fault, there’s nothing to be gained by constantly wringing your hands over it, as I am very wont to do. Apologize, if need be, and then move on to solve the problem.)

I’d strongly advise you to listen to the podcast that concentrates on her, or to read the transcript given below the player. She sounds a lot like that WWII general whose name I can never remember, the one who just soldiered on (ha) no matter what mistakes or setbacks cropped up in his way.

One statement Nooyi makes in a slightly different context is also a standout, about her mother’s attitude towards her position as a CEO and a woman:

I can’t change her. I can either spend my time trying to change her, or just say, “You know what? Let her think whatever she wants.”

Ain’t that the truth? It’s not Nooyi’s fault that her mother is rather dismissive of her accomplishments, and it’s also not really her problem. She realizes that it’s best to save your fire for the things that really matter and let the rest go. Her mother is never going to change her cultural attitudes about women in the workplace, and she doesn’t need for her mother to change it. What difference does it make to her? Who says that her mother has to think she’s doing a great job? (But her mother does have a good insight; she tells Nooyi that she needs to “leave her crowns in the garage.” In other words, when she gets home at night and pulls into the garage, no one cares what great stock deal she pulled off that day. No one cares how much the board loves her. The people who live in her house care about how she’s going to interact with them. So for a father, his son doesn’t care about the company’s balance sheets; he cares about whether or not his dad is going to play catch with him before dinner.)

In the end it’s a matter of focus, as is so often true. Where do you turn your attention, on taking the blame or on taking the responsibility?

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