If you listen to the news, business and otherwise, then the picture is one of desperately seeking silver linings and blame for why we are where we are. It was consumers, Labour, Blair, the Banks, the EU policy on the Euro nations, Ireland, Greece, Spain et al. Inflation is increasing as is unemployment (I don’t accept the number-manipulation that purports to tell us that unemployment is falling at the same time as the number of available jobs falls too).
If you get your news from the internet and avoid the spin and rhetoric from a stream of unqualified and incompetent “experts”, then there are certainly islands of hope and calm within this maelstrom of Western economic meltdown. Germany is doing OK thanks. China and Russia, not to mention India, are growing aggressively. Even our lacklustre Government is making hundreds of millions available for small businesses and huge investments in the country’s civil infrastructure; or so we are told.
Me? Well I don’t watch the news. I want the facts not an editorial based around spin and opinion. I want to know what is actually happening. This, I know from years of ego-driven Government, greed-driven banks and the media turning into some bizarre combination of seedy spectacularism and fake celebrity, is not easy to find out. The truth IS out there but it will require more than X-files-dedication to find it. Molder and Scully thought that they were confronted with cover up, distraction, conspiracy and lies. Ha! A mere bagatelle compared to establishing the facts in a “down-turn” – apparently it is not a recession – single or double dip!
So, what do I believe?
I believe that we have to find a new way in the global economy. We will not be able to compete with the growing nations for manufacturing output and will be paying a premium for raw materials and energy. We will not recover, or be able to manage a global economy by playing the same game with the same rules. The game has changed and so must we. We must find a new way of competing, of doing business in general in fact, where we do not hold all the cards in the pack with a couple of aces up our collective sleeves. We may even not get invited to play let alone set the rules of the new game. I believe, however, we have an outstanding opportunity. It is far from being all doom and gloom and it will take commitment, flexibility, creativity and co-operation. We will have to create new and innovative business models as well as products and services. We will have to embrace new technology – like social media and digital commerce. We will have to re-evaluate why we do business and how we do it. We will have to consider alternatives to pure profit. We will have to invest in ourselves as much as our business and measure our “success” on different terms. We will have to change and be prepared to keep changing.
Some suggestions then.
Co-operate. Create co-operative and collaborative business ventures that focus on projects and relationships rather than simply the bottom line. I have tried this on several recent occasions – it works if all parties are committed to the “whole” and not just to their personal gain. It is generally better to have a smaller portion of a bigger proposition than to get 100% of nothing! Collaborating and co-operative models invite a democratic approach to strategy and management and also invites you to work closer with your staff, supply chain and community and potentially even your competitors. What you may not win alone, you may well win together.
We need to influence “up”. We need to be able to influence investors in the social or community benefits of our business models and encourage an environment of legacy. This is tricky as we invariably face the “old school” mentality still presented by the so-called business “Dragons” (or “Angels; depending upon your experience I guess). Ethical investment is not a new concept but it is one that still needs to be embraced. Not every investor is a natural philanthropist!
We need to invest in training and development. Too often business cuts its training budget in times of cash shortage. Wrong! Investing in yourself and your people will future-proof your business and support it being genuinely sustainable. You may have a good product, you may have a huge mailing list and networks of thousands but it is you and your people that operate your business. Personal and professional development is essential for long term (and continued) success. People not just profits.
We need to think ecologically. What do I mean? Well, basically review your business strategy against the following;
is it good for me? (the usual and “accepted“ first criteria)
is it good for my group (business, social, familial etc)
is it good for my community? (local supply options, collaboration, etc)
is it good for the environment? (carbon footprints, re-cycling, local supply etc)
If you re-evaluate your strategies and objectives along these lines then how many would you change? How many of your current business “drivers” are solely financially-based? Is this working?
Finally, and most importantly perhaps, we need to be responsible; personally and collectively (corporately). Too many time we can slip into the “poor me” scenario or allow difficult times to take the blame. You are responsible for where you are today, what you are doing and where you want to be. Grab your life and take responsibility for it. If you don’t like it, change it. If you cannot change it immediately, invest in your own future. If you cannot do either (and I am sure that you can to some degree), then find something about your current position that makes you happy and provides sufficient sustenance. Your employer may not be able to invest in you or to make to feel valued and content, but you can.
Whether you are an independent business owner, the leader of a huge conglomerate or struggling “manfully” in the face of the worstening storm, you DO have the power to change. You do have the choice. You do have the chance to evaluate your business and life on different terms – your own terms. You are unique so step back, think again, listen to your intuition and keep focussed on your own rewards. So you have not yet bought that Caribbean island retreat but so what? You are just finding a new way to get there; your way. The leader of Bhutan states that he measures his country’s success on its GHP not its GDP; this is the gross happiness of its people not its gross domestic product; how wonderful. What if you ran your business on the same grounds? How happy are you? How happy do you want to be? How much does just money really matter to the quality of your life?
Just a thought!