Never has the entire global economy come to a screeching halt. In past recessions or natural disasters, we have always been able to look to previous and similar events. Even if the latest recession or disaster was different or worse, we still had many examples to reference. There is comfort in looking back on history and realising we were able to work through it eventually.
What the world is currently experiencing is entirely new. Human beings have never collectively experienced anything like this. The 1918 influenza pandemic, or Spanish Flu, was the only comparable event. However, the world was a very different place back then. We did not have the global community, supply chain, and interdependence that we have now. We also did not have the advances since then, such as medical innovations and online communication channels.
Like the novel Coronavirus itself, how do we deal with a genuinely novel impact on the economy and private businesses? We can endure great difficulties if we know they are going to end and when. Now, we need a different strategy for dealing with this new crisis.
First, Look Within
As business leaders, an excellent place to start in dealing with this uncertainty is to look within. We have very little control over certain external events. However, we can control our mindset, our responses, and our internal and external emotions.
We can control how we deal with our employees. Have we done everything we can to keep them safe? Many business owners have had to lay off their team members. Are we handling all our interactions with our team respectfully and compassionately?
Some supply chains are now operating in an unstable environment. Now is the time to have productive conversations with our trusted suppliers. If deliveries to customers are impacted, make sure you maintain regular and empathetic communication. Do they trust us and know we will do everything in our power to help them through difficult times? There are other areas to examine and questions to ask.
Perhaps the most impactful area under our control is our mindset. Our mindset is a multiplier. In The One Thing by Gary Keller, the author asks, “What is the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” The ONE THING to work on right now is our mindset. With a strong and healthy mindset, all other decisions become clearer.
Beware the Pessimism Bias
Psychologist Dr. Stewart Desson, of Lumina Learning, provides cautionary advice. He says that under normal circumstances, we all operate with optimism bias. That is, we all think we are above average in optimism (but only 50% of us can be). We tend to view circumstances optimistically and believe it won’t happen to us. This generally works well as a bias when things are going well.
However, when we are stressed, Dr. Desson explains, the reverse happens, and we develop a pessimism bias. From an evolutionary perspective, this bias can result in us reducing risks, and it can help us stay alive. However, being pessimistic may not be the best approach to revising our business plan and surviving the next 12 months. Taking Dr. Desson’s advice is a good start for our mindset.
Be Optimistic, Right?
In Good to Great, Jim Collins explains The Stockdale Paradox. Collins describes the paradox himself in this short video. It is based upon Collins’ discussion with Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war between 1967 and 1974. Admiral Stockdale maintained the unwavering belief that not only would he get out, but that it would be the defining event of his life.
When Collins asked who had the toughest time being prisoners, Stockdale responded that it was the optimists. He found that the optimists believed that they would get out, but they tied their belief to a specific milestone. “We will be out by October 1st.” Or, “We will be out by Christmas.” As these dates came and went, their optimism waned.
The Stockdale paradox is different than optimism. It involves two things. Number one, accepting the brutal facts we face. Number two, having an unwavering belief in ourselves, that we are going to find a way through this.
That sounds like excellent advice right now. If, like Stockdale, we view this crisis as an opportunity to be the defining moment in our careers, we will embrace the challenge with even greater vigor.
Everybody Needs a TAB Code
Some business leaders may struggle to achieve this mindset. The brutal facts might overwhelm some, while others lack self-belief. What can they do?
Dr. Dennis Charney, from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, has studied resilience. While some people are naturally more resilient than others, this five-minute video explains how we can all become more resilient.
Having strong social support is one vital ingredient to being resilient. In the POWs that Dr. Charney studied, he found that they used “tap codes” to bond with other prisoners. Tap Codes were a communication code the prisoners developed to connect with and support each other in the most challenging circumstances imaginable.
Right now, we think that every business owner needs what we will call a “TAB code.” We need a group to be part of where Members are going through a shared experience. We need to feel supported and to know that we are assisting others. We need new ideas and fresh perspectives. We need a mechanism to help us prioritise and to stay focused on getting things done. This is what we do in a TAB Board.