By Ron Price
One of the advantages of being 66 years old is that I don’t get as anxious I used to when unexpected, negative events occur. Depending on how each event is interpreted, the current coronavirus disruption is, at a minimum, the seventh crisis I have experienced over the past 45 years while in a variety of leadership roles. These crises have included a major fire, negative front-page press coverage, a debilitating breakdown in our supply chain, regulatory abuse, major contracts broken, the great recession, and the tragedy of 9/11. And we have survived every one of them!
What to do? How are we to respond when our world is disrupted so dramatically? As I reflect on this and shift gears into problem-solving around a seventh major crisis, here are things that guide my thinking:
Get above the noise. There are businesses (such as the media and others) that thrive on crisis. It actually increases their “product inventory” and compels their customers to engage. I’m not one who thinks everyone in the media is evil with ill-intent. However, it is a fact that they get better ratings (and more income) the more we engage with what they are selling.
In our book, Growing Influence, Stacy Ennis and I wrote about the three circles of influence: control, collaboration and concern. The circle of control is about what we can take 100% responsibility for in our lives. The circle of collaboration is for those issues that we can’t resolve on our own, but when we find others with shared interests and shared values, we can collaborate for increased influence by working together. Finally, the circle of concern is for those issues that we worry about, that may have a direct impact on us, but that are beyond our ability to control.
The lesson in our book is that the circles of influence you focus on will grow, so if you work on what you can control, you gain great control. If you focus on where you can collaborate, new opportunities for growing your influence with others begin to emerge. But if you focus on your circle of concern, your worries grow (first subconsciously, then consciously later), and usually at the expense of the other two circles. To manage a crisis well, we need to develop the discipline to “turn down the volume” on those things outside of our control and to creatively work to grow our influence in control and collaboration.
Manage your resources. In every crisis I have faced, it was time to take an inventory of what we had and how to best conserve our resources to get through the time of disruption. This exercise includes making sure you are clear about what you owe to others, what others owe to you, and how long you can stretch out your ability to stay viable by tightening your belt and putting off luxuries for a future time. It includes looking at all of your monthly subscriptions, your future obligations, and the implications of continuing doing business as you have in the past.
During the 2009 recession, our income dropped by 50% over the previous two years. It didn’t return back to the 2008 level for several years as we reinvented ourselves and learned new ways of serving our clients’ needs. This required a significant restructuring of how we conducted business, and we have never returned to the old models.
Look for opportunities. Once you have successfully moved above the noise and have a solid plan for managing your resources, it is time to turn current problems into future opportunities. A quote from Napoleon Hill that I share in my book Treasure Inside has comforted and challenged me for many years: “Every adversity, every failure, and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.”
Whether it is true or not, this mindset of looking for new opportunities, no matter what the crisis, has served us well. Today, we don’t just look at our own problems for opportunities. As Dr. Evans Baiya, co-author of The Innovator’s Advantage, told me recently, the greatest opportunities lie in helping our clients and their customers solve their problems during this time of crisis. Is it possible that by helping others, we can actually find new avenues of success for ourselves?
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with one of my sons when he appeared on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine in December 2014. After getting over the emotional impact of seeing one of your children on the cover of a magazine at the airport, I called him and commented, “Your life will never be the same again. Both success and failure are tests of our character. If you know who you are and where you are going, you will pass this test. But if you don’t know who you are or where you are going, someone else will define you and you will probably end up somewhere you shouldn’t be.” Overall, I think he has passed his test. Now, it is our test to pass.
Yes, we are currently living in a new reality. Some of the implications are obvious, many more are still unseen. Our ability to navigate this crisis successfully will not be found in wringing our hands and complaining online. It will not be found in selfishly retreating from the relationships and commitments that preceded the changes of the last weeks. Instead, we will navigate this crisis and become better people in the process by focusing on what we can do and how we can work together to survive, with a continuing belief that in future days we will find equal or greater benefits and, once again, we will thrive.