Have you noticed the sheer volume of articles written about the recession and tips for survival. There seems to be a whole new recession solutions industry springing up. As I'm sure you do, I diligently skim through them looking for lightning bolt insights that will totally revolutionise how I've been viewing the current situation. Unfortunately I've come up empty-handed so far. For one thing, the articles are too darn long. And the final conclusion is, there's less money floating around so you'll have to work smarter to get your hands on some of it. Who'd have thought it?
I used to have quite a bit to do with Howard Russell* until he passed away a few years ago. One of the analogies Howard often drew was that of the athlete. Being a major rugby fan he often talked about the All Blacks. He was fond of comparing business prowess to sporting prowess. For this short article I am going to channel Howard. Here goes. By the way, if you don't like what I'm writing here, I disclaim all responsibility. Don't blame me, I'm only the channeller.
To really get the point here you'll need to imagine a Liverpudlian accent.
Long term success in business isn't really very different to long term success in sport. Almost anyone can learn to run, swim, throw a javelin or ride a bike. The real challenge is to develop your physical, mental and emotional capacity to do all of those things over and over again to a consistently excellent standard regardless of the playing conditions. Your training plan has to enable you to develop the particular skill you require for your event ...as well as...a broad base of skills and strengths as a platform or foundation for that particular skill.
For example, if your skill is to throw a javelin, you're going to need to develop your arm, your throwing technique and your approach or run-up. Annnnd (there was always a long and!) you're going to need to have great breathing, two strong legs, a strong torso, and good neck fitness. Why? Because without all those you'll just have one very strong arm and a body that doesn't cope with the stresses put on it by that arm. And you'll always be giving yourself injuries.
Another example. Runners. Any good runner can deliver a good sprint or a good mile time. On a good day. But great runners can deliver a great time on a good day annnnd a good time on a lousy one. Why? Because they train. They train on the flats and the hills. They train in burning heat and freezing cold. They train in daylight and night. They train in the pouring rain.
The point is...? Great businesses don't expect the conditions to always be great. They prepare themselves for all conditions. And in good times they do very well. But in bad times they still do okay. They play to their strengths. They adapt. They get creative. We don't expect athletes to turn in their best performances in terrible conditions. Nor should we expect the best results in business during a recession. But like great athletes we do need to keep training. Keep developing. We might need to review our methods and schedules. We might need to get to the gym more often and leave the roadwork until it stops snowing. We need to be flexible. We might even need to consider changing events for a while until conditions improve.
Howard used to love tennis. And then he had an injury and had to stop. No problem. He just started playing golf.
*Howard Russell ran the Auckland-based brand strategy consultancy Strategic Insight from 1980 to 2000s. He was a highly respected marketer with a sharp mind and excellent business acumen. He was mentor to me and many other marketers and managers for many years and I highly respected his guidance and advice.
Originally published in May 2008.