By Paul Reilly
Do you ever get the feeling that things are going too well?
Unemployment is dropping. Consumer confidence is rising. The economy is humming along. Business is good, if not great! The next recession is probably the last thing on your mind.
Not to be a downer, but there are economic indicators that show a slowdown is coming. For example, the JP Morgan Global Purchasing Managers’ Index is hovering close to 50. A number above 50 indicates expansion. The yield curve on US Government Bonds is flattening. We’re experiencing volatility in the stock market. There are also more subjective indicators, for example, orders start to tail off; customers seem less optimistic. We just feel a general sense of uncertainty.
Since the Great Depression, we have experienced thirteen domestic recessions and four global recessions. Although the future seems bright, there will always be another recession…followed by greater economic expansion.
Negativity runs amok during tough times. It’s easy to be negative in the midst of struggle. However, this cloud of negativity often obscures our view to the positive, long-term impact of a recession. Consider this famous quote by Walt Disney:
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Some find value in struggle while others simply give up or give in. Tough times are necessary because change rarely takes place without pain as a catalyst. On a personal level, a purification process accompanies tough times. Tough times strip away our facades and reveal our grit and talent. Adversity does not build character; it reveals character. Adversity does not make you strong; it divulges an inner strength you already possess. Adversity does not make you creative; it unleashes your creativity as you innovate.
Tough times are an inevitable part of life. If you are engaged in life, you experience them. Individuals, organizations, and communities face them. They are universal and never democratic in the way they are carried out. Everyone experiences them in various ways and to varying degrees. To compare your adversity with another’s is wasted effort. Tough times are neither fair nor unfair; they are simply life.
Here is one tip to help you thrive, not just survive, tough times. You will prevail if you are open.
Openness is a dynamic process. It is more than passively receiving information. It is actively engaging your environment, making connections, seeking information, and experimenting with ideas. It is reaching out versus simply absorbing.
Openness means a willingness to experiment with your go-to-market strategy and sales approach. This could mean more service and repair work versus whole goods sales. It could mean horizontal expansion of your geography and segments. Variety in your go-to-market strategy may include expansion in your marketing channels and re-evaluating your value proposition.
One salesperson in our training embraced the opportunity created by tough times. When asked about selling new equipment in tough times, he explained that many customers don’t buy new during tough times. Therefore, he focused on selling after-market parts and service. He spent additional time training customers on proper maintenance to extend equipment life. Although revenue went down, customer loyalty deepened and margin increased.
Guy Raz is a journalist and widely considered the most successful podcaster of all time. He is the host of NPR’s How I Built This. Guy will interview famous entrepreneurs like Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, and Jim Kock, founder of Samuel Adams. The entrepreneurs share their stories of successes and failures. Before ending the show, Guy will ask every entrepreneur how much of their success is attributed to luck versus hard work. While hard work is vastly important, nearly every entrepreneur on his show acknowledges the importance of luck.
However you define luck—chance, fate, destiny, fortune, Divine Providence—how open are you to accepting it? Does luck find you or do you find luck? Openness to luck expands your mental peripheral vision. When you expect luck, you look for it. We have an uncanny ability to find what we expect and look for.
Dr. Al Siebert, researcher and author of The Survivor Personality, writes, “When misfortune strikes, they (survivors) not only cope well, they often turn disaster into a lucky development.” His belief is that we have the resilient capability to find good fortune even in tough times. The disruptive change that turns some people into victims provides others the opportunity to turn it into good fortune. One person’s adversity is another person’s alchemy.
Dr. Richard Wiseman, researcher and author of The Luck Factor, takes it a step further in his work in helping people become luckier: “More than 80% of the subjects improved their luck by at least 40% within a month.”
Fortune favors the bold. Being open to luck means being open to risk and to new ideas. This view of luck indicates people can create much of their own luck. This is validated in the self-fulfilling prophecy as people expect something to happen and act in ways that create the outcome they anticipated.
To create luck, you must be open to the concept that there is something out there—even the seed of an idea or opportunity. Beginning with this expectation, opening yourself to possibilities and persevering increases the probability you will discover good fortune.
There is always a recession coming. Although recessions can be painful, they often make us better in the long run. Good economic times mask bad habits. During recessions we are forced to remove the mask and identify ways to get better. In that spirit, the adversity we experience in recessions is the “kick in the teeth” we don’t want, but really need.