What Are the Net,
Net Consequences?
When the US Marine Corps trains young officers, it tells
them “the radio is your weapon.” In other words, they wont
be fighting on their own, with rifles, handguns, and bayo-
nets. The radio is their weapon because, as officers, they will
fight by leading other soldiers.
The same is true for you as a
manager. Your organization—whether it is a team, a depart-
ment, or an entire organization—amplifies the impact of
the decisions you make. This is why the first question asks
you to think hard about the net, net consequences of what
you might do, when you face a gray area problem. This may
sound like common sense. Of course, you should think about
Chapter_02.indd 13 10/06/16 11:01 PM
Managing in the Gray
the consequences of your decisions. Everyone should. But this
reaction can be profoundly deceptive, even for experienced,
successful managers. To see this, consider a remarkable
series of events that began in 1996. Late that year, something
extraordinary happened: an American business executive
came to be viewed as a national hero.
The executive was named Aaron Feuerstein. His company,
which made and sold textiles, was called Malden Mills, and its
best-known product was Polartec fabric. In December 1996,
while Feuerstein and his family were celebrating his seven-
tieth birthday, he got an urgent phone call. The main plant
at Malden Mills was on fire. Feuerstein got into his car and
drove north from Boston toward his company. He first saw
the flames when he was several miles from the plant. When
Feuerstein arrived, the facility was an inferno that reminded
him of the firebombing of Dresden in World War II.
Because of the fire, Feuerstein faced a profound gray area
decision. He didnt know how much he would collect in
insurance compensation. He didnt know how much business
he would lose to competitors while he was rebuilding. He
didnt know if Malden Mills would even survive, if he rebuilt
a textile plant in New England, because much of the industry
had already moved to low-wage countries in Asia. Feuerstein
didnt even know if he was the right person to lead the com-
pany into its next phase.
Despite all these uncertainties, Feuerstein almost immedi-
ately made a personal commitment to rebuild the entire facil-
ity. The new plant would utilize state-of-the-art technology
and employ the same workforce. The cost would ultimately
be more than $400 million. Insurance covered $300 million,
Chapter_02.indd 14 10/06/16 11:01 PM
What Are the Net, Net Consequences?
and the rest was bank loans. Feuerstein also announced
he would continue paying his workers’ salaries during the
rebuilding, even if they had no work to do. These were the
decisions that catapulted Feuerstein to national prominence.
At a time when many US jobs were being outsourced,
Feuerstein had made a strong commitment to American
workers and the struggling communities in which many of
them lived. He received widespread media attention, a dozen
honorary degrees, and was a guest at President Clintons
State of the Union address in 1997. Then, just a few years
later, Malden Mills filed for bankruptcy. New owners and
managers took over the business, but it never recovered.
There is a sad, almost tragic, irony here. If you met Aaron
Feuerstein, you would probably view him as most people did:
as a generous, warm, honest individual. Despite his wealth and
age, he lived modestly and worked hard. When a journalist
asked Feuerstein if he wanted to have more money, he replied,
“What am I going to do, eat more?
After the fire, Feuerstein
genuinely wanted to do what was best for his workers, their
communities, and the company. In other words, he thought
the decision to rebuild would have all the right consequences.
Instead, it bankrupted Malden Mills. Feuersteins character, ded-
ication, and altruism led nowhere. And the reason, it now seems,
is that he failed to make use of the first great humanist question.
This question asks you to think broadly and deeply about
the full, all-in consequences of your options. So what was
this question asking Aaron Feuerstein to think about? What
makes it such an important question? And how can you use
this question as a tool for judgment when you face a gray area
Chapter_02.indd 15 10/06/16 11:01 PM

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