My friends may have noticed that I have not posted a blog for some time and for this I do apologise. In the last month I buried two members of my family and I simply wasn’t inspired to write. My uncle was very active in planning his sister’s funeral, only to die one week later. This situation made me think about life itself - how we can be cruising along, oblivious of what lays ahead, yet our lives can change in an instant.
In business the same obtains. We can be working to grow our business when suddenly a key contractor goes into administration with thousands of pounds outstanding to us. What happens if around the same time we experience some dramatic natural disaster which our insurance doesn’t cover or a piece of legislation is passed that impacts adversely on our company? (Example: the banning of smoking in pubs.)
It is not unheard of for businesses to go through phases when everything seems to be going wrong. To deal with this occurrence some organisations seek to diversify, some scale down their operations, others implement strategies to increase their market share and sadly some curl up and die. I dare not say the strong survive or the weak give up for who am I to judge. People have their respective pain thresholds and while some will find it easier to take their own lives than to face the music, others will pick themselves up and keep going. There is an interesting Ghanaian proverb that says: “If things are getting easier, maybe you're headed downhill.” Perhaps we should always expect challenges and put in place buffers and contingency measures.
In life we encounter many challenges; indeed challenges litter our path – we start school, study, sit exams, apply for jobs, go for interviews, fail interviews, work with people, juggle work and family life, go through illnesses – the list goes on. We learn to cope with the demands of an ever-changing world and develop skills that we pass on to generations. In the normal scheme of things, it is a complete cycle, we enter the world basically helpless and leave almost the same way, thus “once a man, twice a child”.
Business too has its fair share of challenges. As business people we go through recessions, we encounter excessive regulation and bureaucracy; we experience environmental and social pressures; we have competition not only in our vicinity but on an international scale; we meet upon gate-keepers bent on keeping us out; we encounter bad attitudes and the list goes on. How do we respond to these situations? There is no panacea; it comes down to our human capital (if we are able to hold on to them) - how we deploy them; how motivated they are to go the extra mile when required; how well they are treated; how valued, included and responsible they feel towards the company; how empowered to be creative they are.
What matters is not what befalls us but how we respond; how we rise, dust ourselves off, learn and get going again. Take counsel from the Spanish proverb: Las cosas suelen empeorar antes de mejorar (it gets worse before it gets better). The Jamaicans say: “the darkest part of night is when day soon light”. We go through difficult phases but there is usually a light at the end of the tunnel, if only we can muster up the patience and perseverance to make it through the darkness.
The French has a proverb that says: Le miel est doux, mais I'abeille pique (Honey is sweet, but bees sting). What can we learn from this? No one said life was easy! The path to success is not smooth; there will be moments of desperation, perhaps extreme adversity. We cannot change the external environment but we can change our strategy. What we cannot cure, we endure. In those moments when everything seems to be going wrong, we must draw on our inner strength and on the strength of others. Too often we try to cope alone when all we need to do is ask for help. A problem shared is a problem halved.
When it rains it pours, so let’s start selling umbrellas! Remember, it’s not what befalls us but how we respond to the situation that’s important.