If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re used to having things just how they are. Not in the benign “I hate these LED bulbs, why can’t we have the old kind of bulbs” kind of way. It’s an ignoring trusted institutions, a questioning every news source, friends turning on friends, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, kind of way. We need our high school football.
Six years ago, when I wrote Famous Last Words: The Way We Have Always Done It, there’s no way I could’ve predicted that we’d be in a global pandemic, on an economic trampoline, and enduring a political shit storm AT THE SAME TIME. I wish I had bet on that pony. What I laid out was that the road to success is littered with the rotting carcasses of dead companies that failed to dodge the traffic of oncoming progress. Some of those companies were multi-billion dollar entities, with near-monopolistic control of their respective markets. Yet, with all the financial resources, Ivy League degrees, and government lobbyists, those companies found themselves smeared all over the pavement. That’s Wall Street, let alone Main Street.
We’ve all heard that during tough times, we need to get back to basics. It’s been said so much that it has an echo. At its core, it means getting back to doing the little things right, consistently. But, it has been co-opted into trying to rewind the clock to the way things used to be. As if somehow we can go back to a time of white picket fences, pastel cars, and dad runs the household. This is the wishful thinking that spreads the pandemic.
The American economy is literally built on betting on the future. It’s what underpins banking. It’s what drives the stock market. Without future growth, there is no compound interest. Much in the way vulcanism creates new land, some things need to explode violently, and survivors need to adapt to thrive in a new environment. That explosion is 2020. It’s time to bet on those survivors.
As some are digging-in harder, fortifying their positions, the seismic activity is starting to build. Fueled by boxed chardonnay and Alex Jones, pushing that which was promised by the baby boom, chiseled in stone. As the acrid steam pours off the well-worn path to success, new edifices of success are being built on that shaky ground. Yet, people are screaming for an Ark.
One of the most enduring traits of Homo sapiens sapiens (not a typo) is that we’re adaptable. Nearly every region and religion in the world has a story of a flood that wiped everything from the planet. Yet here we are drinking Budweiser and smoking Marlboros like nothing ever happened. Cultures have survived everything from meteor strikes to genocide by not only being brave and creative, but also being willing to drop everything and move on. Famine, wars, natural disasters, all of it. Commit. Move. Survive.
2020 was a wakeup call for all of us. We’ve grown comfortable with having plenty. The first whiff of scarcity triggered hoarding. The last whiff of pretending words will make it all go away caused riots. As the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus said 500 years before Christ, “the only constant in life is change.” As the remains of the Parthenon gaze over the ruins of a once-dominant civilization, that which was carved in stone is gravel trampled underfoot. Yet, we still don’t heed the advice.
If there were ever a time to adapt business, it was 2019. Unfortunately we can’t do that, so that leaves us today. This is the time to experiment. This is the time to test everything that never worked.This is the time to challenge the status quo. Diversify offerings. Introduce new services. Build a non-traditional workforce. No reasonable idea should be ignored, because it’s almost impossible to mess things up worse. This could be your organization’s Manhattan Project. You can go out with a poof. Or, go up with a BANG!
If you keep telling yourself that we just need to go back to 1998, or 1972, or 2011…you’re already a victim. Repeating ancient incantations over and over again did not make it rain during droughts, just like reading a thirty-year-old phone script isn’t going to make it rain when sales are down. This isn’t a time to build a temple to the old gods. No, this is the time to grab what you hold most valuable, and leave the rest behind. This is the time to band with the survivors, the builders of the new. This is the time to embrace those who look, act, and believe differently. They’re willing to leave it all behind, too. Now is the time to bet on moving forward…while there is something left to bet.