By Dave Sullivan (Shamrock Group, Inc.)
By hoping and waiting for better times we actually put our businesses at risk.
Recently, I provided comments to a Forbes writer on how to deal with irrational people. At that time I didn’t think I came across them very often but explained that when we do, here is how we help them. We have them act like a company evaluating potential markets to pursue. They describe the market and discuss key factors that will impact it over a reasonable time period. Then we put them back into the picture and compare their company against this picture of reality and they draw their own conclusions. At that point, even the most irrational minds will usually open. It is tough to argue with your own facts.
I keep thinking about those comments on the subject of irrational thought. Upon reflection it now appears to me that, much of the time, most of us act less than rationally. Before you rise up in protest, let me defend my point of view. If you’ll go online and look at your dictionary (we’ll come back to this comment later), you will see that irrational behavior is defined as a state of mind deprived of reason, mental clarity or solid judgment.
Applying that definition, I believe we are all irrational to some degree – especially when reviewing the past five years. As the recession deepened, we longed for a return to normal and dreamt that a more stable operating environment would be our key to future success. All we had to do was ride it out until things improved.
We yearned for the comfort zone – that safe place where we experience little anxiety and believe steady, predictable performance is rewarded. If we think about it rationally, we would most likely agree that the comfort zone does not exist and probably never did. By hoping and waiting for better times we actually put our businesses at risk from aggressive competitors, better ideas and breakthrough technologies. Rationally speaking, the comfort zone is actually the danger zone.
In a recent Motley Fool newsletter, they got my attention by profiling industries that are failing. Each industry suffered from similar delusions. They were introspectively arrogant and rationalized that failure could not happen to them because they were “just too big to fail”. The industries included – newspapers, record companies, bookstores (I said I would come back to dictionaries), telephone utilities and big box stores. Each was unmindful of its customers changing demands and of the technological advances rendering them obsolete. They just kept operating their businesses expecting we would remain satisfied.
In the future, cable TV and satellite dish companies will probably join that list. As the saying goes, 500 channels of programming; nothing to watch. This industry is out of touch with their users. Labeled as some of the worst companies in America, they face significant threats from emerging technologies. While you may still be watching TV today, your children are already receiving their information and entertainment very differently. If some of the biggest companies, in what were believed to be some of the most stable industries, can fall victim to their success so may we.
Trying to operate in the comfort zone may be the most irrational behavior we can embrace and it may be making our companies vulnerable to those who are uncomfortable. When you think you have it figured out, and when you think things are going well, I challenge you to dig deeper and get more facts. I challenge you to plan harder, experiment more and be at ease taking reasonable risks. Most importantly, I encourage you to become comfortable dealing with discomfort.