How many really bad things can go wrong in business in a single day? One or two? Five? Dozens? Dozens of dozens?
A key employee leaves because a spouse is offered a job a thousand miles away.
A key partner botches a supply chain handoff and your warehouse is empty ahead of an annual sale.
You discover a critical hidden formula error in one of your financial spreadsheets that even your auditors missed.
Your customer service lines light up for a problem with your competitor’s product being confused for your own.
Sound like a normal enough day?
Then why do we think of turbulence as extraordinary?
Maybe a better question is how many things can go right in a day. Sometimes if you achieve one modest success you count your blessings and call that an outstanding day! A win is the welcomed exception. Problems are the norm.
Just remember one of the key maxims in career longevity: If you’re a manager, problems are job security. If there weren’t problems in business, we wouldn’t need management. Lucky for us, huh?
I was recently talking with a colleague about his desire to offer calm to his staff after a rough few weeks. He wanted to give a talk where his message and tone signaled that the bad stuff was behind them.
I advised against it. How could he possibly know what fate might bring even later that afternoon? You never want to make a liar out of yourself with stuff you can’t control. Besides, the very notion of calm to me signals surrender.
What is the stuff you can control? Attitude, anticipation, and readiness.
It’s a question of urgency over fear. Fear in the form of debilitating anxiety may not be your friend, but urgency in the form of nimble responsiveness is always your friend. There is so little in our future that we can control, pretending it is otherwise is advancing the clock on the certainty of smackdown.
Complacency lets down your guard. Predictive, proactive realism keeps you sharp at all times.
How many times have I heard hardworking but tired employees utter the phrase: “If only we can get through this [fill in the blank], we’ll be fine.”
Remember this instead: The reward for getting over a hill is the opportunity to climb another hill. There is always another this to get through. Beyond each valley is always another hill, often steeper and higher than the one behind you. That is the nature of economic cycles. That is the nature of problem-solving. Whatever you solve today may create an opportunity, but the market response to that opportunity will likely create the next problem on your plate.
It’s no different for capital and equity markets, where despite our hope for smooth sailing, volatility is the norm. That’s why for so many stock picking is a loser’s game. You’re in for all the good and bad days or you’re out.
What to do then?
Embrace turbulence before it becomes turmoil.
Make turbulence your constant companion. Celebrate small wins, but never be fooled by a quiet few hours. Once you are comfortable with the inevitability of unpredictability, your confidence level will rise. You will learn to address change because you accept the inarguable market force that change is constant.
A good sales quarter is always exciting, but as every prospectus states, past performance is no guarantee of future results. You know that like you know your boss’s ugliest shirt. Why pretend otherwise?
Did AOL fall on hard times or fail to respond to turbulence?
Did Yahoo suffer an explainable devastating blow or wander aimlessly amid turbulence?
Did Kodak get ambushed by new technology or fail to play its strongest hand in a climate of turbulence?
Each of those companies allowed turbulence to become turmoil. When turmoil escalates to the unbound, creative destruction has usually made its decision.
Think about what those implosions mean to you.
Did the last project that didn’t go your way take you down or prepare you to outperform it?
Did your last failed product launch demoralize you or teach you how to make a better product?
Are you looking for comfort in the quiet ordinary or comfort in outrageous curiosity?
Turbulence in business is the norm, not the exception. Companies that win do so because they surf over, around and through turbulence. They might purposefully avoid an obvious storm they can’t navigate, but they expect storms, they don’t anticipate their magical elimination.
In daily business dealings, if you know that bombs are regularly going to drop, you won’t be surprised when they do, no matter from where. If you’re a CEO or close to one, you know it’s the job of leadership to address crises, not to hope they will slink away.
Make peace with turbulence. Pace yourself for a ceaselessly bumpy endurance contest. Expect an unruly rollercoaster ride and be mildly pleased the days it doesn’t throw you from the train.
When you have one of those good days—and you will—you will appreciate it even more. Your definition of a good day may also begin to change. Mine certainly has. Stay tuned to this channel for how.
Previously Published on Corporate Intelligence Radio