It’s one of the first phrases our parents say to us. “Don’t worry, everything will be ok”.
Whether we’ve fallen over, crashed our bike, or lost a pet. We grow up hearing and then repeating that phrase. We all do it. It’s natural, it makes us feel better to hear it, even to say it.
The trouble is, sometimes it’s a lie, and it has some very bad consequences.
The problem with the phrase “Don’t worry, everything will be ok” is that the very strong implication is that things will fix themselves or that someone else will sort things out. It takes away responsibility from the person who is told it, it even takes away the responsibility to act from the person saying it.
When you fall off your bicycle age 4 and your Mum rubs your scuffed knee it’s completely reasonable to use the phrase.
When a business model is failing because it’s no longer fit for purpose, is a good example of when it’s really not ok, that is a time for large amounts of decisive action to be taken.
Grandma the cars on little Johnny, again
During times of acute stress people fall into one of three groups.
Catatonic. Sit staring into the middle distance, waiting for someone else to take charge.
Panic. Running around like their hair's on fire. Lots of movement and noise but little if any useful activity.
Focus. Concentrate really hard at fixing this exact problem, right now. When you hear reports of little old ladies lifting cars off kids that’s focus.
Everyone falls into one of those three types, and until the chips are down, until it’s truly a do or die moment it is very hard to tell how people are going to act. Hence big men running around screaming, and little old ladies lifting cars.
This mindset happens in business all the time. After all businesses are simply a bunch of people, and therefore end up having a personality, just like people do. It’s typically that of the CEO, mixed with that of some of their senior management. Highly siloed companies can as a result appear almost schizophrenic, as different personalities interact.
End of the World
The catatonic types just lose the motivation to continue. They shrug and say the game’s up. It was good while it lasted. They wait for the inevitable doing their specific job, washing the dishes on the Titanic. They go quietly into the night. Often that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
The panickers, start working harder and harder. We’re not hitting the goal? We’ll out work the problem, run up the mountain. The problem is that as success changes in the market, they are often using the wrong tools, and running up the wrong mountain.
Being better at doing something that is no longer a successful strategy simply means you fail quicker. Businesses with this strategy often work harder partly to try and win, and often to stop thinking. Thinking can be frightening. What if what we’re doing is now the wrong answer? What if everything we’re good at no longer matters. What then? What if everything really isn’t going to be alright? It just increases the panic.
Refusing to go quietly into the night is only useful if your plan extends beyond simply screaming as you die.
Focused businesses are prepared to change their minds as the facts change. If a business model doesn’t work for them, they change the business model. One of the most important characteristics of this type is the ability to remain calm under pressure and give themselves the time to think. Gather data, go where the data leads. Throw away the ideas that no longer work and find those that do.
Businesses like this actively court different ideas, whether from internal or external sources. They don’t pretend to know the answers, instead often returning to first principals to build up a new world view.
Many startup’s pivot, but it gets harder and harder as the business grows. That doesn’t make it any less important.
Where are the adults?
Our society is one in which far too many of us think that someone else, some sort of adult, is going to come along and make everything ok. After all that is surely the only way to explain our behavior.
I’ve watched many businesses over the years fail because they continued to work hard, often ever harder, at the wrong things, or simply succumb to the inevitable. They believed their own narrative.
Unfortunately I’ve got some bad news
It’s time to step up, the adults aren’t coming. The adults are us, there are no more adultity adults waiting to sweep in, rub our knee and fix it for us. We reject answers answers that we don’t like, or don’t fit our world view. But just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Times up kids
When you’re market is changing under your feet, the time to sit back safe in the knowledge that it’s going to be ok in the end is over. We need to stop being the ones with the tears and the sore knees and need to start being the adults.
Many consultants get hired by businesses in the panic mode. We need to get better, sharpen the spear, charge harder, be better. There is a role there, it’s all about execution, even if what you are trying to execute is of some doubt. Charge !! But in what direction??
Personally I prefer to work with the focused clients. Ones who know they have a problem and are prepared to stand back, work out what the problem is and then execute on that. It takes longer, and companies often have to hear things they don’t want to hear. That makes it harder for the consultant because who wants to pay money to someone who’s telling you you’re wrong. But I can say from experience it might be tough but it’s better than the alternatives.
Wernher Von Braun one of the fathers of rocketry was once asked what the most difficult part of putting a man on the Moon was. He replied. “Having the will to go”.