Shaken, but not stirred

It’s so tempting to do some news jacking on Brexit and gain some of the emotional currency of the hot matter, but I’ll pass. Instead, I want to talk about dealing with crises.

I’ve been recently thinking a lot about a power of paradox, a counter intuitive approach to go against the current while your intestines scream to follow the crowd. So, here’s my two cents on facing inevitable macro and micro collapses.

Slow down. Everyone around you will be running like headless chicken, media will be throwing its own relatives into the fire to get it burning to the front page best seller, doom, gloom and panic. Switch off TV, stop frantically searching the web to get a glimpse of hope. All this time you are driven by fear, which means that whatever valuable (or, let’s be honest, in most cases totally useless) information gets in, it will be used for the sole purpose of either feeding the fear or reassurance. Instead, learn the news, switch everything off, get a piece of paper and a pen, and draw a couple of scenarios. Basic options, costs, value, impact. By the time your counterparts will get to drowning fear in panic in endless chats, you will have a plan. So, avoid the temptation to act fast, slow down.

Sunk costs. I think every good business book would have once told you to leave sunk costs behind. Yet, it is one of the most common ways to drag oneself into even darer situation. What’s lost is lost, and however disappointing it feels, resist the urge to try to save what’s lost. It’s gone. Situation has changed, don’t save former life, use this time to start building a new one. You’ll gain a head start advantage. So, avoid the temptation to hold to what you had, launch into the unknown instead.

Admit the fuck up right there and now, especially if you are a leader. There is a notion that a leader should instil confidence, and somehow it’s translated as being optimistic and positive. Yet confidence is being strong enough to admit the situation and being honest about the prospects. Your team deserves to have the right to be responsible for their own destiny and decisions, and you are better off without a burden of false promises. So, avoid the temptation to maintain positivity, be honest.

Do not trust yourself.  We’re emotionally driven human beings. At the times of unexpected and unpleasant changes even the most rational of us tend to sink into emotional turmoil. Accept that your gut judgement right now is tainted, its a fact. The intuition you trusted (quite rightly) in a daily life resides on experience of normal life, and that finely calibrated inner compass is now replaced by primal emotions. So this voice inside you which screams now – is not your intuition, it’s your ‘fight or flight’ response. Unless you want to join the curd off the cliff, resist the temptation to follow it. Clear cold minded analysis is your best friend.

Hold the line. Unless we’re talking about seismic changes like war or destruction of your city by hostile aliens over the course of one night, most changes take time. Survival will depend on being able to adapt proactively. This means that you need to structure your resources in a way that allows you to do so. Leaping into drastic changes will take up all resources in simply rebuilding the normality. You may need to fire 80% of your staff, but you’re better off doing it without having to move office, buy new software and deal with the nervous break down along the way. So rely on little habits and routines to carry you through and concentrate the resource on active and thoughtful change. Who knows, you might end up waiting out the panic altogether. Indeed you may have woken up in a new country, but someone still needs to take the waste bin out in the morning. Hold the line.


Stick to long term. When we’re shaken our focus tends to narrow and we end up making shortsighted decisions. Time of change is exactly the time you wrote your vision for. If routines and sanity are your boat, then the vision and values are the lighthouse. My company values are integrity, grit, courage and persistence, and that’s exactly what I’m focusing on through brexits and financial turmoil, not ‘it’s fucked up let’s defect to Canada’.

Look for opportunities. If you manage to avoid panic and go through the turbulence with clear mind and inner calm, you will inevitably spot an opportunity. Great changes would push the majority to freeze or make frantic decision. Watch closely, and however tempting it might be – don’t follow. Time of change is an opportunity time for those who are prepared to spot it.

I guess I could have said all of it with just ‘don’t fret’. Essentially it is the case. We all have got an ‘inner chimp’ raging at the time of distress. And it’s not the time to let it rage, however natural it may seem.

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