In today’s competitive business environment, it pays to take a step back and look at the big picture. What your customers are thinking is the best predictor of what they will be doing. The best market research will often take account of changing social mood. Businesses that will thrive in this environment are those that stay nimble and ready to adapt to the fact that I am incredibly sad this morning and feel like drinking.
Some may ask, how is the present moment different than other times? Our outlook is that the world is increasingly a place of volatility, confusion, tumult and unrest. Times are difficult. My wife Cindy has been spending a lot of time with her yoga teacher. Think of events of the past decade. 9/11, the Iraq War, the Bush Administration, the Kerry-Edwards ticket, the financial crisis, 10% structural unemployment, peak oil, the success of the American Idol franchise, rising food prices, and arguably, more than ten years without a single credible indie rock album. It’s no wonder that a lot of people today are saying things like, “Let me take a rain check for the rest of the 21st century.” And that’s exactly why I have taken out a three-month lease on a room at the Hampton Inn where I have stored a case of vodka, a Sega Genesis and a bunch of old Pearl Jam records. Now may be the time for your corporation, too, to posture itself defensively.
30 years ago, when Ronald Reagan called this country a “shining city on a hill,” the business environment could not have been any different. Interest rates were falling. Taxes were being cut. Deregulation was the order of the day. I was single. But 30 long years later, we find ourselves in an environment where interest rates have hit rock bottom, growth is doubtful, and thoughts of a girl I knew in college keep rushing into my mind. Meanwhile, re-regulation seems like a necessary correction to an age of excess and I want to hurt myself at times and, other times, simply run away. But with increased regulation will come increased costs. With increased costs, increased uncertainty. With increased uncertainty, businesses will find the correct course of action difficult. As I prepared this presentation, I heard a news story, something about banks in trouble, and I kind of just tuned it out because I was listening to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” and wondering why after all these years won’t somebody please hold me. But that hardly seems like an answer to the challenges of the future, does it?
America will move on. Things will improve. A new day will dawn. We’re not writing off the next ten years. We’re just saying that you should stay flexible, to hedge your bets. True success stories are those where the hero presses on. Where you keep trying and trying even when it doesn’t work and everything seems to flow away from you like water and you have flashes of your own demise as an angry picture of your wife’s family hangs on the wall above you. America will survive. American business will live to see another day. There will be a new “Morning in America” even if the hangover from last night seems like it can only be cured by a whiskey and coke.
I am, of course, available for questions after the presentation, but right now, can anybody tell me where the hotel bar is?