It is one of my favorite comments I hear from business executives: "We'll be fine once the economy turns around." I'm not suggesting that there have not been economic changes in the past decade. But, it amazes me that people don't realize how the economy improves.
The economy turns around when businesses grow. So, you can either be a company that gets dragged along with the economy, or you can blaze a new trail. Let me tell you why it makes good sense to lead instead of follow.
Don't Be a Victim
What does it mean when you say "It's the economy?" Simply, it means that you feel you are the victim of something about which you have no control. If that is true, then just sit at home in the dark, and we'll call you when things turn around. When the overall pie shrinks, the best companies figure out ways to get a larger piece of the pie. In some cases, they define a new category of pie.
Innovate and Grow
Is Zappos or Amazon shrinking? Not so much. Less money in general is being spent on luxury items like diamond engagement rings, but JamesAllen.com continues to grow and increase their share of the market. Quite simply they improved the way people buy a diamond online.
In a shrinking economy, I've heard transportation companies say "Companies just aren't using sedans and limos anymore." But Reston Limousine continues to grow not just locally, but globally, by offering innovative services for their clients. They operate one of the top ten luxury coach fleets in the United States. Their customers and employees alike are both very happy.
Another transportation company, Uber, was founded in 2009 -- in the midst of the economic crisis. On a recent trip to Boston, I used Uber several times, and asked the drivers how much of their business came from Uber. The answer was astonishing: "Just about 100 percent of my business comes from Uber. They keep me so busy I can't take on more;" said one driver. Imagine if the founder had said "We'll just wait for the economy to come back."
In each example, innovation and creativity created a path to prosperity.
When you innovate and grab a larger piece of the pie, what happens when the pie grows? It's not rocket science. If you get your better than fare share of the pie in a hyper-competitive market, your differentiation will be that much more dramatic in a strong economy. Will Uber be any less successful in a strong economy than a weak one? We would expect them to grow even faster in a growing economy.
How Can You Lead?
Stale thinking is not likely to produce exceptional outcomes. What do you assume is impossible -- only because you have not challenged the status quo? Look for things your clients worry or complain about. Where might you be able to offer a solution to solve these problems? Focus on why they might need what you offer, rather than focusing on what you are selling. Imagine all of the areas of risk and obstacles to doing that business, and figure out a way to streamline the path between you and your ideal customers.
The single most important thing, however is to never make or accept excuses. When you blame the economy or an external factor, you become a powerless victim. Empower yourself and your team to innovate and lead. You just might feel the economy rise and know that you had something to do with it.
It's Your Turn
What cool ideas have you developed to disrupt your industry and drive the economy?