I was talking with my husband, Jim, last night who just happens to be the smartest person I know – and I know a lot of really smart people. He reminded me of a story about the taxi driver who works every day until he collects $100 in fares and then he quits. When times are flush, he only has to work a few hours a day and then he can go home. When times are tough – there is no convention in town – he may have to work 12 hours, constantly circling the block looking for fares, to take home the same $100.
Whether as businesspeople or as investors, we tend to do the same thing. When times are tough, we keep doing whatever we were doing before – we just do more of it. We keep calling on the same customers hoping for an order and we keep investing the same way and hope for the market, or the government, to rescue us.
It may be intuitive, but it is wrong. Wouldn’t it make more sense to work eight hours when times are good and then stop circling the block when business is slow and use that time to experiment and explore new opportunities for customers and profits? Because when is the risk of stopping what you are doing and trying something new smallest? It is when you don’t have any customers or profits to lose anyway!
As a business, for example, now is the perfect time to experiment with some of the new marketing ideas like social networking. If your business is down, the time away doesn’t represent very much lost business anyway and you just might discover the keys to a new business model that will propel you forward. But one thing is for sure, if you keep beating the same old bushes with the same old stick, you are likely to go home very tired, very dispirited and with little to show for your effort.
Sometimes, the hardest thing for us to do is to let go of an old way that isn’t working. Have you ever looked back at a particularly difficult time in your life and realized, in hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to you? That is because crisis often strips away our choices. We have to let go when what we were hanging on to is snatched away. We have no choice but to reinvent.
For me, that crisis was 1997. I had made a lot of money in my company’s IPO, which I promptly turned over to a broker with one of the big name firms. In two years, everything I hadn’t managed to spend, the experts had managed to lose. One day the phone rang.
“Sorry to be the one to tell you this. Things didn’t work out.”
“What do you mean things didn’t work out? What didn’t work out?”
“Your money. It’s all gone.”
I found myself with no money, no job and debt up to my eyeballs. I wouldn’t have given up the life I had at the time for anything in the world, but once it was gone, I was forced to create a new life – and a new way of investing my own money that didn’t depend on correctly guessing the future direction of the market and didn’t depend on some broker who did nothing but suck fees and added no value.
In the end, I created a life and a way of investing that was far better than I had before. And as a result, I have a job teaching others to do the same that is more gratifying than any I could have imagined. But to get it, I had to let go of what I knew and what was familiar. I had to let go of what wasn’t working and reach out for something better.
Scary? You better believe it! But crisis gives us no choice.
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, wrote in, The Doctor and the Soul, that in life we have a position (how and where we came to be), a destiny (what has happened) and a disposition (how we choose to respond to the first two things).
Ask a cynic why he is a cynic and he will tell you it is because of his position and destiny, what happened and why it happened. The cynic blames the course of his life for his attitude toward it.
He has chosen the worst possible disposition––to give up on the possibilities––because his garden did not come up all roses. The all-important point the cynic misses is that his disposition has deepened his unwanted position and entrenched him in a destiny he loathes.
The optimist, on the other hand, recognizes that yesterday is irreversible and tomorrow hinges on our attitude (and I would add, our actions) today.
Here is how I see it: each of us has a choice in how we view the current situation. We can view it as a crisis to be survived or a magnificent opportunity to cast away the old way that isn’t working and experiment and explore new ways with very little downside. The choice is up to you. I already made mine.