Monday, February 16, 2009

Out of Touch Means Out of Business

(Source: Rieva Lesonoski)

"I am a positive person, an optimist, almost a Pollyanna. I generally see the upside of most situations and keep the light at the end of the tunnel in my sights. However, even I have my limits.

Things are bad out there. Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton and current professor at University of California at Berkeley, said Tuesday morning that we are rapidly heading from a recession to a depression. Hopefully we won't get there, but does this really surprise anybody? From November 2007 to November 2008, 2.5 million Americans lost their jobs. Just last week the Wall Street Journal reported that an additional 45,000 people were about to lose their jobs. And we all know it's not going to end there. Bankruptcies and foreclosures are up and it's anyone's guess what big name retailer or manufacturer is going to shut down next.

A few weeks ago I asked if you were a lion or a mouse. So how do you feel after reading that last paragraph? Do you lions take all this bad news as a challenge, inviting you to be more creative, innovative and, well, thrifty? Or are you a mouse, scurrying for a corner and waiting for the storm to pass? Or perhaps worse (and this is what has my dander up) you are an ostrich, burying your head in the sand, refusing to listen to or even be aware of what's going on in our world.

Apparently, there are a growing number of people out there who think that this will all go away if they don't think about it. Seriously. I won't name names, but there's a well-known, feel-good author/speaker who's telling people to stop listening to the mainstream media for 30 days. That way they can stop hearing all the negative things being reported and just focus on the positive. I was trolling around Twitter the other day and someone wrote how she told a journalist at her local newspaper to stop "being so negative." And she blamed the paper's falling circulation on all that negative reporting!

Get real, people. The media, mainstream or not, is not making the bad news up. Nor is writing about it the reason they're losing circulation (could it be the Internet?). Not paying attention to the bad stuff doesn't make it go away. When you open your eyes in a month, it's still going to be bad out there and you'll just be more ignorant than you were 30 days earlier. And while a few of you may believe that "ignorance is bliss," believe me, it's not. Ignorance is, well, ignorant. And you can't start, grow, or even maintain a business if you are out of touch with reality.

Don't get me wrong. I am a big believer in the power of positive thinking. But in business, positive thinking is more than learning the "secret" of willing yourself a great parking space. Everything you do needs to be put in context. Your customers and clients are changing their behaviors based on today's economy. You need to know what's going on, so you can tweak your offerings to appeal to their new mentality.

I don't want to sound unsympathetic, but someone else's bad news can be good news for you. If you don't know that Circuit City is closing its doors, you're going to miss out on some great deals. Or if you sell electronics, wouldn't you want to know that one of your biggest competitors is gone and their customers are now up for grabs?

Tuesday's New York Times reported that the transition industry is booming right now. These are the companies that prepare and train laid-off workers for future employment. Is it possible someone reading this article will decide to start a transition company and join the ranks of successful business owners?

In the long-running musical The Fantasticks the young heroine is encouraged to put on a mask every time she spots something bad to block out the reality. But she only finds true love and happiness when she sees the world as it really is (warts and all) and makes the decision to live her life with her eyes wide open.

In the closing lines of his inaugural address President Barack Obama told us "with [our] eyes fixed on the horizon" we can get through "this winter of our hardship." That doesn't mean bury your head and hide from reality. It means keep your head up and focus on the better times ahead.

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