As I read the news, the daily onslaught really, that documents the spreading effects of our recession I’m reminded of the great novel Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad. There the protaganist, Jim, is Captain of the SS Patna, a creaky ship with outdated infrastructure, poorly maintained by its owners, carrying Muslim pilgrims to Jeddah. A coming storm darkens the skies, raises the sea, and exposes the lack of innovations or maintenance or even minimum safety requirements (self-regulation was popular in the late 19th-century, it seems) to keep the Patna seaworthy, even if it wasn’t overloaded with families on their holy pilgrimage.
Jim and the other officers aboard the SS Patna are convinced of doom by the storm’s approach and abandon ship, leaving the pilgrims to their fate.
Jim and his officers aren’t visionaries. What they feared did not happen. The storm passes quickly. The SS Patna turns out to be far more reliable (despite needing maintenance, innovations and regular inspections). The pilgrims are doomed only to be towed to safety by another ship. (OK, one that was well-maintained, built with more modern equipment and could pass safety inspections and had a confident, well-trained crew.)
If we believe the stories in the mainstream media, general or business, we’re all in our own SS Patna. And their stories offer us two options as either hapless pilgrims or Cap’n Jims. As hapless pilgrims, we’re doomed to a horrible fate as the effects of this economic storm reach our creaky boat. As Cap’n Jims, we can be smart and abandon the SS Patna (our community, our company, our economy) and leave the hapless pilgrims to their own fate, personal responsibility and all absolves us from any ethical quandary or sleepless nights. (Besides, the boat’s going to sink. ‘Might as well sink now’ is the thinking of some current commentators.)
What’s lacking to keep us afloat are stories, data and perspective.
Stories. More stories of businesses who survive and thrive despite this economy. Yesterday Jeffrey Summers from Restaurant Coaching Solutions shared the story of two restaurants, RESTAURANTS, who not only survive but thrive during this recession. Restaurants are usually hardest hit given their competitive industry, their minimal profit percentages, their dependance on consumer’s disposable income and optimism. One restaurant saw a 20% increase in year-to-year sales… and the restaurant is in Detroit! One is opening a huge new location after experiencing a few years of flat to no growth!
Data. Sure, there’s a 3% rate of job loss for the country as a whole. A recent Gallup poll showed 26% of companies surveyed planned to eliminate jobs vs 24% that planned to create them. But 24% or almost 1/5 of all companies said they planned to expand their number of employees. Where’s that data being shared? Or the news that job growth is 2%, a POSITIVE 2% in the South. Or there’s no net job loss in the Midwest. That means as many jobs are being created as being eliminated. Where’s that data being shared? That leads us to the next point . . .
Perspective. “They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything!” Yes. We demand the facts of the recession, good and bad. Yes. There is a LOT of data that shows the negative effects from this economic storm. We know that data already. We or our families or neighbors or company or community or state budget experience them. Mainstream media, you’re talking to the sailors on the boat that’s being tossed around. We got it. What we need more of is perspective. Perspective gives hope and confidence, makes us look to the future. Remind us that just behind this storm are the twinkling stars.
In our economy these are the individual stories of companies thriving and growing. Remind us that as that sun sets, so it rises.
Here’s perspective: Unemployment and its impact on future retirement plans hit the Boomer generation the hardest. Yet, what generation has served and continues to serve as the greatest source of startups and entrepreneurs? That same Boomer generation. A recent study conduct by Kaufmann Foundation points out we may be on the cusp of an entrepreneurial boom because of our aging population.
Here’s perspective: Recessions are a cycle, not THE cycle in an economy. Growth and expansion cycles follow recessions. See above point regarding boomers and entrepreneurs.
We all have vested interests in our own SS Patna: our community, our company, our economy. Now’s not the time to abandon our ship. Yes, it’s creaky. It was never maintained well. It’s owners (that includes us) failed to invest in innovative technologies and equipment. Our training as officers was ignored. Safety standards and inspections were often ignored. But, it’s weathered other storms in the past. And, together we’ll weather this storm together, rebuilding the ship, making it stronger, using modern technology and innovations, developing the leadership of each other and our officers, committing to safety. And all that means we don’t have to be towed into a foreign port by the SS Beijing.
Here’s what each of you can do as readers of this post.
1. Tell the stories. Tell the stories of the stars in your sky. These are the stars behind the clouds. The stories of companies, communities and economies that not only survive now, but even thrive. That helps remind your community they’re out there and they’ll see them to one this storm has passed. Share them on facebook, twitter, your blog, your blogtalk radio show. Share them at your gym, your church, your coffee shop.
2. Insist they be told. If bad news sold, media properties like newspapers would be leading us out of this recession. Obviously, bad news doesn’t sell. And the last ones to recognize that are the newspapers who A. tell these bad stories, exclusively it seems; B. built a thriving business on selling bad news in the past. C. they’re blind to the change.
So, we need to help them so they can help us. Insist these good stories and the good data and the perspectives be told. Praise and support those papers when they do. Editors watch what their readers respond to. Respond to the good news. Tell them you want more such stories.
3. Don’t abandon ship. Keep bailing water. Help others keep faith. Share these stories. Remind everyone the storm will pass. Find ways to celebrate. Find ways to be happy. Get a paddle and paddle. Plug a hole: donate your time and resources to those who have more urgent needs.
Remember what happened to Jim. Better to face our storm together now.
About the Author: Zane Safrit’s passion is small business and the operations’ excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. He previously served as CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited. Zane’s blog can be found at Zane Safrit.