Ever heard the expression ‘Self-fulfilling prophesy’? Simply, if enough people say ‘this situation exists’ often enough, then the situation will come to exist. If enough so-called ‘expert economists’ say that we are in a recession, then people will stop spending money or investing in new ventures, or expanding existing ones, and hey presto – you have a recession.
not saying we should ignore negative information. But to continue to present
that information in ever bleaker, increasingly funereal tones, which the
economists (through the avid-for-bad-news media) continue to do, does nothing to
help us deal with the information in a positive way. Without any other source of
advice, we tend to ‘batten the hatches’ and go into ‘hibernate and
survive’ mode. Hence, recession. The Economists, who in reality started the
whole bloody thing, will pat themselves on the back and say how clever they were
to predict it.
professional skippers, we are trained to deal with bad situations. Through
experience, we know that bad weather is not a problem. It’s how you deal with
that bad weather (and the state of your vessel) that determines if bad weather
is in fact a serious problem, or just a situation that is uncomfortable and
requires special care. If you broke out the lifejackets and abandoned ship just
because the waves got bigger than the masthead, no-one would travel by sea. You
also know that as long as the Skipper is smiling and whistling, passengers tend
to believe everything is normal even if they are throwing up in the loo or over
the rail. I remember a particular trip bringing passengers back from Motuihe
when we got beaten up by a nasty head sea coming through the channel, and then
got beaten up again with an even nastier beam sea as we were exposed to the
Northern Approaches. When we finally berthed, one of the passengers said to me
quietly “As long as you were whistling, I knew we were OK – then I realised
the tune you were whistling was ‘Yellow Submarine’ and somehow that made me
relax even more”. OK, it was a potentially dangerous situation, but I am a
competent skipper and the vessel was in great shape – designed for conditions
far worse than that. If I had become panicked to the point where my judgement
was effected – NOW you have a dangerous situation. But that has nothing to do
with the weather. It has everything to do with my
mental approach to the conditions the weather presented.
I used to be frightened of flying. And then I got a job which required me to fly around NZ, mostly to provincial towns – which meant flying in F27 Friendships which, for those not old enough, were an over-wing twin-prop 44-seater. On average, two return flights a week. In bad weather, they used to open the door to the cockpit to avoid cargo (which was stored between the passenger compartment and the cockpit) from blocking the door if it shifted, like when the plane stood on its head. That meant you could actually see the pilots chatting casually to each other while the plane executed 200 metre drops and stomach twisting corkscrew lurches. As long as they weren’t worried, then I wasn’t quite so terrified. It was a mental thing rather than reality.
last salary was paid to me in April 1989. I walked away from a flash office, hot
& cold running secretaries, a company car, a good salary and an expense
account. I didn’t have to leave – I had just reached some kind of watershed
in my life, and I knew I had to change something. Rather than have some kind of
well-thought-out Master Plan, I must confess in all honesty that I had no idea
what I was going to do. I just walked, and most of my friends at that time
thought I was mad. Maybe they were right. The strange thing is that, at that
time, I had NO answer to the question “Where is the money to live going to
come from?” and even stranger, I wasn’t all that worried. Something in my
head told me that an opportunity would come along if I just put myself in the
right place, did positive things and
expected something positive to happen. Guess what? It did. I won’t bore you
with a history of what happened then. Suffice to say that after a period of
‘wandering in the wilderness’, some stomach-churning false starts, years of
hard work, and some stormy weather I have a very successful little company, and
while I won’t figure in NZ’s richest people, ‘I ain’t doin’ so bad’.
Had I worried about it, I would probably never have left that comfortable job.
As I look around at some of the businesses that started up at the same
time as I did, and have now fallen by the wayside, I wonder what made the
difference. I listen to people telling me how bad things are and I see them
down-sizing in true ‘batten the hatches’ mentality, and I wonder if we are
somehow living in different Universes – because I’m not experiencing a
downturn. We’ve had our best June ever. I would love to believe it’s just
because we’re damn good at what we do – and we are – but I truly think it
has to do with our mental state.
We’re too damn busy making our clients happy to worry about a recession, and
if you follow the logic, making your clients happy is the only thing you really
have to worry about. Everything else – like revenue and then profit – flows
on from that. So, for those of us small business-people facing an
economist-engineered recession, I have a couple of suggestions based on
experience and observation of many other businesses in my job. If you’re into
potatoes, and the potato market gets hit, then find a different way to use
potatoes and market that new way. Otherwise, you’re just one of the crowd and
what happens to the crowd will happen to you. Find something about your business
that is unique to you, or really hard for your competitors to supply. You may
have to invent something – add some other service to your business. Then
market the hell out of that difference. The last idea I have for you is
‘strategic alliances’. If it’s ok for the big boys, it can work for us
too. The idea is to find another business that works with the same potential
clients as you do, but is not your
competitor. Link up with some commission-payment arrangement or
shared-marketing-costs so that you present clients with a ‘seamless
experience’ of which your business is part. The intention is not the earning
or paying of commissions. The aim is to access a bigger potential market for all
parties in the alliance.
closing, I guess what makes me so irritated at the ‘expert economists’ is
that they never present their information in a way that motivates you – they
just say “This is bad, and its gonna get worse”. They never say “This is
the situation, and it’s bad, but these are the things you could do about
it.” They just make you feel bad
in return for getting their face and name on TV.
I forget who said it – some famous business tycoon, addressing his
entire staff after getting sick of hearing nothing but negative, negative,
negative: “Spreading gloom and despondency just makes you part of the Problem.
By all means report your facts – but then give us a range of possible Answers.
That makes you part of the Solution
– and if you want to stay in my employ, I know which I’d prefer you to
be…” One of my clients said to me the other day – after yet another
economist had spread more doom and gloom – “What do you call 12 economists
at the bottom of the sea?” The answer – “A good start….”
Steve Punter ANZIM,
Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.