Monday, April 20, 2020

Pandemic Resilience is Knowing When to Quit

Thomas Edison
“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be a more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks." ~ Warren Buffet
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties.  It doesn’t, however, require you to return to a previous state.  Often the fastest way to recover is to quit and start again.  Think of a jeep climbing a steep muddy hillside.  Mid-way up the hill, tires spinning it comes to a stop.  In this situation your choice is often limited to staying in the same spot spinning your wheels or quitting and trying again.  Life often provides us with similar choices, and the COVID-19 pandemic will force many businesses to face this decision.  

Let’s talk about the role quitting plays in resilience.  As a youth I was taught that with enough hard work, belief and long hours anything could be accomplished.  Now as a veteran high-tech executive with thirty plus years of experience I no longer hold that maxim to be true.  Some businesses are just bad ideas.  Some good ideas are before their time.  Sometimes people in leadership positions shouldn’t be.  Some ideas just run out of money before they get to market.  Some good ideas just can’t rise above the noise and fade off into oblivion.  Sometimes pandemics happen.

Today, mid-pandemic, we have misaligned economic and financial timing.  That means for many our economic system has been paused, but our financial system has not been. It is still requiring payments on loans and mortgages.  That combination is untenable for all but the richest and most profitable of businesses.  

If leadership in both government and the private sector work together to align our economic and financial timing through a combination of low interest loans and mortgage adjustments, then good and proven business models may be able to climb their way out of the pandemic hole.  If, however, returning to the same business model is no longer adequate because consumer behaviors have changed and/or pandemic related restrictions remain in place long term, then resilience is not returning to where you left off.

Resilience post-pandemic might mean adjusting or abandoning the pre-pandemic business model and starting fresh with new thinking and a new business model.  Tightly packed downtown restaurants may close, transform and re-emerge in low rent warehouse sized locations that are better equipped for increased take-out business, and able to give those dining in plenty of space to feel safe.  

Resilience is not tied to a business, product or service.  Resilience is tied to people.  The great American inventor Thomas Edison started all kinds of businesses and products that failed.  There was the machine that combined movies and sound called the Kinetophone that failed to take off.  He spent a fortune trying to develop a better way to extract iron ore from mines for the Pennsylvania steel mills without luck.  But with all of these failed attempts at different businesses, he succeeded in many others and was worth $170 million in today’s value at the time of his death.  One of the keys to Edison’s success was his willingness to quit.

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.