As business leaders, we are often called upon to give our perspective to team members or to clients, whether it’s about consumer trends or behavior, or general economic issues. If you’re like me, you have spent a lot of energy recently trying to make some sense out of this crazy business climate. One strategy I use is to draw upon other aspects in life to help understand and to communicate. Lately I’ve been thinking about Sebastian Junger’s book The Perfect Storm. For those of you who haven’t read it or watched the movie, the story is an account of the crew of the Andrea Gail, a swordfish boat that was caught at sea in the North Atlantic during the freak confluence of three storms. Separately, any one of the storms, while powerful and dangerous, would have been manageable, but together their destructive force was magnified. The ship was lost and the crew presumed drowned.
Obviously, the business environment behaves differently from weather patterns, but in this case there are also some important parallels to be noted and lessons to be drawn.
The three forces coming together in October were the stock market collapse, a historic presidential election, and an overall poor state of the union. On top of that you can throw in two wars and roller-coaster gas prices. Like the three storms, each of these forces taken separately would exert a powerful influence on the business climate, but most businesses would have been able to adjust. Occurring together, however, the effect of these events was heightened beyond what most businesses were prepared to handle.
We have experienced similar crises during the last 10 years — notably the dot-com crash of 2000 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — that also paralyzed the economy. In both cases, while we were in the moment we all felt that the world was ending and that the business environment would never return to normal. Though we still feel the effects of these events today, both personally and professionally, conditions actually stabilized within just a couple of months.
The Right Mindset
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I am not naïve; the effects of the current “perfect storm” of crises are more widespread and will likely endure for a longer term. But I do think we need to have the right perspective. How widespread the effects are and how long they last depends in part on how we perceive these crises and what we do about them.
As a leader within your business, you need to focus on the things that are within your control. You must be the voice of reason for your team and your clients, and address their natural fears and anxieties. As Henry Ford said about adopting the right attitude, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Leading with the right mindset is critical to managing your way through these unstable times. Businesses today do have a tough road ahead, and business owners have some difficult decisions to make. To survive, you need to dig deep within yourself, have your ax sharp, and adopt a culture that is open to change.
Seize the Day
There is also a heightened sense of urgency that you may not be prepared for. In fact, this sense of urgency may be something that newer businesses have never experienced. This is a “survival of the fittest” environment, and the time to act is now. The liabilities may be greater than ever, but there are also great opportunities that can only be realized by businesses that change and adapt quickly.
Like the swordfish boats that still sail into the North Atlantic, today’s businesses will recover from the initial shock of the “perfect storm” of events that rocked the world last November. But that one month is just one twelfth of the year. It may take a while to recover from the market crash, but at least we know who our next president is. With the right approach to business and a little luck, by next year this may all be just a memory.
—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodel and author of the book How Fit Is Your Business? firstname.lastname@example.org.