Champagne Problems: A Reframing Opportunity

I’m writing this as my incredibly health son starts three days of 学級閉鎖 (class shutdown) for the flu rampaging his class. It’s common practice in Japan that if a third of the students are sick to shut down the class to prevent the further spread of infectious diseases. Needless to say: Working parents hate it! We are fortunate that we are both in jobs where we can work from home if needed. And as I mentioned, my son is not stricken with the flu and is generally very 元気 (full of energy), sometimes too much. So in the great scheme of things, I’m grateful of how things turned out!

Whilst I try to keep him off the Nintendo Switch, I’m trying to work out an issue with a client over an upcoming Points of You® Academy programme in February. After cancelling programmes in 2019 due to not meeting the minimum requirement of 6 people, I find myself having to stop ticket sales as we are overflowing the room at 10. Argh! What should I do?

It all reminds me of working at Wall Street Associates (now en world) after my first maternity leave and I was put in charge of Client Relationships and organising “Leaders of Japan” networking events for our C-Level clients. I was reporting directly to the CEO, Nick Johnston. As we were drawing up the lists of potential guests, I started to panic,

“But Nick, what if too many people come? What if we are over subscribed?”

“What? Why are we worrying about Champagne problems?”

“Huh?” My blank face showed him I had no idea what he was talking about.

“This isn’t a problem. It’s great! If we are oversubscribed, brilliant! We can create a waiting list, we can run another event at a later date. We know that we have really hit the nail on the head and the clients love this idea.

“That’s a champagne problem. Not a problem at all but an opportunity. Next!”

A quick search today on google shows me that the term “champagne problems” generally seems to be another way to say #firstworldproblems, talking about the scale and impact of your “problem” in the context of wider social issues like conflict, poverty and so on.

However, I prefer Nick’s view and the lessons on reframing and giving yourself the option to think about the opportunity to achieve more than you thought was possible.

I often talk about champagne problems with Japanese managers in the midst of organisational transformation. When we have an organisational culture with a tendency to focus on what might go wrong, to avoid risk by not taking any, we keep ourselves in a holding pattern.

“There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly?”

Erin Hanson

We should not be a Pollyanna and be blindly optimistic but allowing room for an exploration of the upside of success can be thrilling, motivating and, most importantly, give opportunities for further innovation and brainstorming.

I also hear clients complain about the challenges of working with a team that is “too diverse”. Again, I am like “what?! You are having creative conflict and you have a chance to really leverage the benefits of different perspectives. Champagne problem! Next!”

So next time, you hear someone complain about being too busy because of too many customer requests, or having to take time out of their schedule to onboard their new hire, remind them of the idea of champagne problems and ask them how they can reframe this as an opportunity.

I’ll remind myself that I can enjoy some quality time with my son and enjoy his company one on one for the next three days! #champagneproblems

What type of situations might thinking about champagne problems be useful for you?

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