Panic, paralysis, and pessimism —these “three P’s” are your enemy during any time of disruption and economic downturn. Your best strategy in business (and, in life) is to minimize each of them during this COVID-19 fueled business disruption.
Parts of what we’re seeing have occurred in the past—severe shock to the financial system such as the Great Recession of 2008/2009 where banking system nearly collapsed, a shutdown of events and travel post 9/11, and a 50% drop in stock indexes in 1987—all crises in which we've managed to adapt.
Part of what we're seeing seems new. Most of the world has not lived through a pandemic that has affected nearly all nations, but some have, like the SARs epidemic that served as a pandemic for many countries. So, if you’re in sales survival mode, how do you cope? Let’s take these three P’s one at a time.
Panic is a natural reaction when most of what you know about your life has changed or been put on hold. We are also deluged by news reports, some of which paint a dire picture for the future, and further, social media has given everyone a voice, so rumors and misinformation abound. To feel some sense of panic about an economic downturn is not a shame. Let’s break this down to some component parts:
- The vast majority of predictions about dire outcomes will never happen. There will certainly be consequences as a result of the pandemic, but history tells us human society always adapts and finds a way to thrive, and predictions prior to the event are notoriously inaccurate.
- Panic not only makes you feel lousy, but it robs you of your natural ability to solve problems and develop the best plans during disruption.
- Panic is unhealthy and diminishing your body’s immune system is not a good strategy right now.
- Very few effective business plans are developed in the panic mode. The best plans from unanticipated emergencies come from cool heads who have managed to push back the urge to panic.
When it looks like the world is tumbling down around you, it’s easy to fall into a paralysis due to fear of making a mistake or uncertainty about what the next steps should be. If you’re in business, paralysis is one of your worst enemies because it results in lost business and diminished relationships with customers, and it only adds to your sense of hopelessness.
- Keep moving
- Build a plan
- Focus on your key customers and how you can help them during this significant business interruption
Do some research about how consumers are behaving and look for areas of opportunity, and share those insights with your customers and your prospects. Be that sounding board and bring ideas and possibilities. Doing something always feels better than doing nothing. There is comfort in making sequential progress on a plan, and it crowds out the negative emotions that can hold you back.
We all have innate capacities for pessimism or optimism, but this is a great time to make a conscious effort to think more optimistically. The world is full of pundits right now who want to tell us the sky is indeed falling —often because they believe what they write.
If you want to study the difference between pessimism or optimism in response to existential risks, read the book, The Wizard and the Prophet, by Charles C. Mann. In essence, the prophet sounds an alarm that a significant threat is facing humankind and radical changes are necessary right now to avoid dire consequences. The Wizard looks at the same problem and thinks about solutions that might mitigate the threat.
For example, there were numerous predictions that burgeoning population growth, coupled with finite food production levels would result in mass starvation in many parts of the world by the mid-1980s. What actually happened was technological advances in farming methods coupled with disease-resistant hybrid seeds has allowed agricultural output to double in the last 40 years. In 2020, very few parts of the world are short on food, and most hunger is result of politically repressive regimes or civil war.
Leading Through a Pandemic
At the end of the day, the only behavior you can control is yours. You can decide to what degree you will let panic set in, or what specifically what you do to avoid being paralyzed by fear. And, you can decide whether your view on our current business disruption looks more like a glass half full than a glass half empty. Not everything you do will work the way you want it to, but some things will. And you’ll feel better because you are busy and productive.
Only you can decide to what degree the 3 P’s will impact your business success and personal well-being during this business interruption.