Earthquake Alert

“Earthquake Surfer”? What does that mean? And why should you care?

The earthquake in question is evident enough. Look at today’s business headlines: economic distress, financial meltdown, political upheaval, uncertainty and anxiety. Recessions are like that, and this is looking the worst one since 1981/82, possibly longer. But recessions pass, right? So isn’t earthquake a bit of an overstatement?

I don’t think so. Look beyond the headlines and you’ll see that some more fundamental changes are going on:

  • Globalization. Formerly backward economies like China and India have become major competitors on the international scene. Their emergence has permanently changed the competitive landscape for many industries.
  • Shifting demographics. In the U.S. (where I live) and in most other Western nations, population demographics are in the middle of a historic shift. Birth rates have fallen, the population is aging, the Baby Boom generation is shifting toward retirement, and the ethnic composition of the population is transforming. Old assumptions about the nature of your consumers are becoming invalid. At the same time, new opportunities are opening up.
  • Environmental issues. Environmental concerns have stepped to the fore. Old ways of running our lives or doing business are being questioned and re-examined. Some products and behaviors that we’ve been taking for granted are becoming unfashionable or even illegal. Entire new industries are springing up to meet the new needs.
  • Technological change. Technology continues to accelerate. Entirely new industries are springing up, based on transformative technologies like cloud computing and biotechnology. At the same time, other industries, notably the mass media, are being torn down or rebuilt.
  • Political change. The political and regulatory environment is shifting. The regulatory assumptions under which businesses operate are changing in fundamental ways.

Most of these developments aren’t new. They have been building force for some time. They have now built to the point where they can’t be held back any longer, and the current economic crisis has forced their transformative power out into the open. The result: this isn’t just a recession; it’s an earthquake.

Remember, earthquakes are violent and unpredictable. They shake things up and cause damage, sometimes severe. People who’ve been in earthquakes ((In the interests of full disclosure: I haven’t been in an earthquake. I live in Atlanta. We get tornados, but not earthquakes.)) report a sense of disorientation that resonates for most of us. Earthquakes leave you thinking, “If even the solid earth under my feet can move, then what can I rely on? Where can I go? Where will I be safe?” If you know the feeling, then you know what I’m talking about.

But the blog title is “Earthquake Surfer” — what’s this surfer stuff?

It’s a metaphor, of course. ((Again, in the interests of full disclosure: I am not a surfer. Unless you count occasional bodysurfing, which hardly qualifies. I just like the metaphor.)) Specifically, it’s a metaphor for what I think it takes to succeed in business when the ground is shaking beneath your feet. Like surfing, succeeding in business today requires:

  • Balance. You can expect to be buffeted by strong forces from unpredicted directions.
  • Courage. It’s tough out there. You could get hurt.
  • Vision. You have to know where you’re trying to get to. You have to have an idea where the waves are.
  • Aggressiveness. The surest way to get hurt is to hold back or sit still.
  • Adaptability. Things will change. Your best plans are going to have be adjusted, sometimes abandoned.
  • Skill. There’s no substitute for skillful execution.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, of course. No metaphor is. But I think you get the idea.

So what I want us to explore in this blog is: what’s going on? What can we expect? How do you succeed in this environment?

I look forward to your comments.

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