I keep a cartoon from The New Yorker near my desk, which seems to sum up this past year and perhaps the year to come. In the cartoon, Charles Dickens is sitting with his editor, and the editor asks: “I wish you would make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? It could have scarcely been both.”
Looking back at our newsletter articles from late 2008 through the present, it is both. It’s the best and the worst of times. In the past year-and-a-half, the economy was the worst it has been since the ’30s. Trust in various institutions was undermined. Banks failed. Foreclosures hit new heights. Unemployment reached an alarming high. Entire industries shifted or declined.
Yet, of the many difficulties and seemingly endless bad news, encouraging themes have emerged. Our articles this year focused on three resounding themes: new ways of doing business in a challenging economy; leadership; and networking/social media.
It’s the organizations that get creative and experiment on how to provide greater service that make it. Just as nature experiments following a forest fire, said Dr. Bob Wright of the Wright Leadership Institute, companies also need to try on new ideas, new technologies, new ways to do business in a challenging economy.
It may be more difficult to find the business, but there are industries that do well during recessions—and some businesses use the economy as a time to reinvent themselves. Here is an excerpt from one of our late 2008 newsletter articles:
“‘Innovative’ is the key word. A number of speakers and winners at the Chicago Innovation Awards…made the point that it’s especially critical for companies and individuals to focus on innovation. ‘Try as many things as possible, in as short a time as possible, using as minimal resources as possible,’ said keynote speaker Barry Moltz.” To quote Albert Einstein: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
Leadership was also an important theme this past year. Companies are recognizing that, to thrive, they must empower their people. Our favorite example is transformational leader Brad Anderson, vice chairman and former Best Buy CEO, who received the 2009 Transformational Leadership Award, sponsored by the Wright Foundation for Transformational Leadership.
Here is an excerpt from our April issue: “In his acceptance talk, Mr. Anderson emphasized that he isn’t and has not been the agent of transformation at Best Buy. Rather, he sets a vision and has created an environment in which employees have the freedom to pursue ideas at their local stores.” People feel empowered by the trust and freedom offered by their leaders. It opens the door and invites creativity.
This is important because “American business faces a crisis in trust,” said Joe Plumeri, CEO of the Willis Group Holdings, speaking at The Executives’ Club of Chicago in October. One consequence of today’s economic climate is that people and companies are afraid to take the risks required for growth and to restore trust.
Yet businesses must be willing to embrace change and new visions, and it’s a shared responsibility for everyone in a company. “Time to stop whining and start designing (the future),” said Dr. Don Beck, a world-renowned expert on organizational and societal transformation, who spoke at the November 20-21 Transformational Leadership Symposium: Staying Ahead of the Curve.
As Brad Anderson said in his address to the symposium, “We’re sitting on something very precious. We’re sitting in a place in time in which we may have an opportunity to do better than we’ve ever done before in our lives and discover a completely new way.”
And, finally, we talked a lot about networking and social media.
Here’s what we wrote in July: “During the course of the spring networking events, one constant in conversations, promotions, and email messages was this: social media. As the conversations suggested, it proved to be an important part of the event promotion mix but not the be-all and end-all it may seem. For promoting an event, the best approach is an integrated approach in which a personal touch predominates.” In other words, it was that final phone call that brought in the extra attendees. People want to connect, whether it’s via a networking event, a seminar, a phone call, Twitter, LinkedIn, IM—the choices keep expanding, because it all comes down to connections and relationships.
From our May issue: “The most critical element of creating and maintaining contact with a network is to use as wide a variety of means as possible—and as often as practical—from emails to blogs to newsletters to social media to phone calls to face-to-face meetings.”
Business happens through effective networks. In our October issue, we wrote that “effective networks are active, living networks.” Networking and social media are part of an entire mix of tools for finding new clients and helping to set up in-person meetings and conversations. All in all, it still is face-to-face meetings—off-line connections, if you will—that remain the goal of most network contacts. It’s important to learn how to be a hub, or focal point, in a network and understand how to maintain your networks—because ultimately, it comes down to relationships. As we wrote in October, “Humans are social, and, in business, it’s always about relationships.”
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