Over 50 years ago, a young man walked away from a tremendous job to pursue a new opportunity. He knew, subconsciously at least, that he had to leave a good thing to go onto greater things.

Should I stay or should I go?

The company was a magazine called Esquire , the man was named Hugh Hefner, and legend has it that he asked for a five dollar raise and was refused. At the same time, Esquire had decided to leave Chicago to set up base in New York City. The 28-year-old Hefner, a Chicago native, decided to stay back in his hometown. In this sense, his decision to leave his position was in actuality a decision to stay. Hefner decided to start his own magazine. He put Marilyn Monroe on the cover, left it undated and baptized the publication Play..boy . With that began the meteoric rise of the man known today simply as Hef.


Mr. Hefner’s rise to the top, realized in Play..boy ‘s ascent to supremacy over competing magazines like Esquire , could be attributed to a number of factors: changes in American society, shifting consumer tastes, the publication’s presentation of an alternate choice of content (not to mention the nudity), and, in all likelihood, some luck. Whatever the reasons, Hef’s story underscores the fact that risk-taking is an important part of the recipe for success. But remember that risk-taking is a two-sided coin. It can bring reward, but it can also spur failure and catastrophe.

Clear the runway

Enter another icon of American culture: Jack Welch. Far from a failure or catastrophe, Jack Welch was one of the top managers of the 20th century. His concept of “the runway of a person” was a central motif in his book, Straight From the Gut . The concept encompassed the idea that the value of an employee is not measured simply by their present capabilities, but also by the upside potential that they have to offer. The greater the “runway,” or potential for achieving future success, the greater the value. Hefner’s runway was so long, it could be argued, that he had to change the environment he was in to move on to a venue that would better accommodate his potential. In other words, he had to move on to greater things.

Your potential won’t be realized unless you have the right platform…

Platform for potential

For every one Hefner, however, there are millions of wannabes who strive for greatness but fail to attain their goals. This is where we bring another element into “the runway of a person” motif; that of a person’s “platform.” In life, young professionals need to find suitable platforms that match their runway. It is only once a healthy balance is reached between the two that someone can succeed and live a rewarding and meaningful life.

One’s platform could represent macro-level factors like the city they live in, the industry they work in or even the company that employs them. Micro-factors could be the specific department of employment or even the projects undertaken. A platform is more than a mere intangible; it is an externality that can make the difference between being an All-Star or a mere footnote.

Professional free agency

As always, the sporting world presents some great examples of the balance between runway and platform. How many great players have wasted their careers by playing for perennially losing franchises? Think of the NBA’s L.A. Clippers or the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals. The Clippers have drafted a number of great prospects and nose-dived each of their careers. The Bengals need no introduction — we’ve all seen the seasons they’ve put together. Of course, some would argue that one with a truly great runway could turn around a franchise no matter what, and that is the mark of a champion. And while it is possible for someone to single-handedly carry a supporting cast, one stills need a decent platform at the very least.

Of course, in sports, young athletes rarely get to choose which teams they will play for, as they are subject to the amateur draft. In your career, things are slightly different. You are free to apply to any company that you wish.

Don’t believe the hype

For all the Cincinnati Bengals and L.A. Clippers of the world, there are plenty of platforms that seem too good to be true. Think of starting a career with the business equivalent of the New England Patriots.

Keep in mind, however, that it’s not about finding the best-looking platform, but rather the one that is the best fit for one’s runway. Case in point? AOL’s acquisition of Nullsoft. Nullsoft — whose contribution to society is best known by the brand Winamp — was founded by Justin Frankel and sold to AOL Time Warner in 1999. The Winamp application, an MP3 player, made listening to music on the Web so easy that it helped the rise of music piracy online. AOL’s acquisition of Nullsoft was thus a means for their parent company, Time Warner, to seize control of the piracy that was hurting another one of its subsidiaries, Warner Music. As a result, no matter how great Frankel’s platform might have been in theory, in practice, his runway was cut off by his new bosses. He resigned from his position in January of 2004.

This instance provides a great example: One needs to be wary of a platform that seems like a good fit but is actually at odds with what one has to offer.

Have the Weinstein brothers found their platform yet?

Cake: have it or eat it?

The Weinstein brothers have become larger-than-life personalities in Hollywood thanks to their production of hits like Pulp Fiction and Fahrenheit 9/11 . Years ago, they sold their company, Miramax, to Disney in order to up their platform by leveraging Disney’s marketing muscle and manpower. But once they realized that their creativity was being suffocated under Disney, the Weinsteins wanted out. This situation underscores the dilemma many professionals face in balancing their runway with a platform that they will benefit from.

Intrapreneurs vs. Entrepreneurs

What Hefner, Frankel and the Weinsteins all have in common are a tremendous runway and a track record that proves that they can execute their vision. And while they have all enjoyed tremendous success in their fields, the role that platforms have played in their careers is evident. Once you recognize your runway and what you have to offer, it is up to you to find the best platform on which to execute your potential. To those who shun risk, that might mean satisfying oneself with the platform at hand. To others, it means leaving a good thing to go on to greater things.

Many find sound platforms within established companies, acting as an intrapreneur. Others do so by striking out on their own and forging a path as an entrepreneur. To everyone, it means simply pouring your heart and soul into what you do.

Choosing the right platform is something that has to be done on your own terms; there will always be those who criticize your decision. After all, some at the time recognized Hefner’s decision to leave Esquire as a balanced one, one with the potential to reap great reward. Others dismissed it as a means to stay in the friendly confines of Chicago and start a little magazine.

E-mail of the week:

I have a big speech to give and I am nervous about it, big time. What do you recommend I do? I know what they say about avoiding reading aloud but I am concerned about causing a train wreck up there.

You should definitely not read a text, that is a big no-no. While reading does not ensure that your speech will be monotonous, you will fail to leverage one of the greatest assets there: the audience. Too many so-called public speaking experts are so busy pontificating on ways to address the crowd that they forget the actual crowd itself! The best method is to converse with them… ask questions, even if they are simply rhetorical.

What I recommend you do, and I use this strategy myself, is come up with a major outline and write out the subjects that you want to cover, broken down into clear paragraphs. Writing helps you synthesize the info and process it. You should then review what you have written; this will help you clearly visualize what you will talk about.

Good luck… and remember, chances are that no one will be listening anyway.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com. His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at www.AlexanderTheBook.com.