“Ideas and guidance come from the most unexpected sources – if you’re open to receiving it.” Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox, once told Fortune magazine that the best advice she ever received was from a customer who attended a breakfast meeting she conducted. “‘When everything gets really complicated and you feel overwhelmed,’ the customer explained, ‘you gotta do three things. First, get the cow out of the ditch. Second, find out how the cow got into the ditch. Third, make sure you do whatever it takes so the cow doesn’t go into the ditch again.’”
Get Out of the Ditch
“The pragmatic translation of this homespun advice: The first imperative is survival. Second is figuring out what happened. Then, learn from those lessons and put a plan in place to recognize the signs in the future so you never make the same mistake again.”
Understand the Ditch
The economy is rebounding slowly. Will companies make the same mistakes again? We’ve ridden many economic waves – 1987, 2001, now – and when things pick up, we quickly forget lessons learned and go back to the way we used to work, and we believe the economy – and our business – will continue to boom.
The National Bureau of Economic Research reported in December 2008 that the U.S. economic recession officially started in December 2007 – that’s nearly 2 years ago. No one predicted then how deep a ditch the cow was in. And, our heads were in the same ditch as the cow.
However, some good news surfaced during this recession. People talked, they wanted to connect and exchange creative ideas. They challenged conventional thinking and adopted new ways of working. Continuing this exchange of ideas in a slowly growing economy is essential.
Alan Greenspan predicts economic growth will hit 3 percent or higher, but unemployment will continue to increase and will pass 10 percent. Greenspan told the ABC program “This Week” that he expected 3 percent growth in the third quarter, up from the 2.5 percent he previously predicted. A slowing or halt in job losses is different from reversing the rise in unemployment, Greenspan noted, adding that the nation’s unemployment rate – currently 9.8 percent – is “going to penetrate the 10 percent barrier before heading down.”
Economic pundits remind us that unemployment is a lagging indicator in an economic recovery. Uh-oh, the cow is still in the ditch.
“We are in a recovery, and I think it would be a mistake to say the September numbers alter that significantly,” Greenspan said, adding: “This is what a recovery looks like. … It’s premature to act on this type of information.”
Stay Out of the Ditch
So, what to do? I act exactly as I tell my clients to act:
- Ramp up activity. Triple your activity – but not just any activity. Focus on the activity that produces results in the short and the long term. Talk to people – past clients, new clients, prospects, peers and colleagues. Everyone wants to talk. We share information and insights about the economy, the valuable lessons we learn, and the smart strategies we then engage.
- Show up. Attend networking events. How many? One a week, minimum. For me, I attend 2 or 3 a week. It’s energizing, I learn, and I develop new and exciting business relationships. Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Show up. Period.
- Forge new alliances. Everyone works differently now because the business landscape continues to change and evolve. As business issues become more complex, the solutions become more complex. Companies partner with other companies to deliver relevant solutions. Sometimes, they even partner with competitors.
- Narrow your niche. Yes, this business strategy produces immediate results – anytime – but particularly in a challenging economy. Why? The generalist no longer counts. Companies hire experts. The client expects measurable results from the person he hires. The client keeps his job, the company grows, and everyone wins. The more granular, specific and definitively you position your business expertise, the faster you obtain new, profitable business.
The cow makes its way out of the ditch slowly. We need to get out of our ditch quickly. Get out there, show up, talk to people, get creative, and become the expert. Position yourself for the rebound. But don’t get fooled. Don’t go back to the way you used to work. Use anything and everything to boost your sales and ensure that you and your clients never land in the ditch again.
No shovel needed.