an airline graveyard.

I had an interesting chat recently with a colleague of mine who runs a successful business. He was telling me how well the business is trading and how “easy” things had become. At one point he told me that he feels all he has to do is “to continue to open the doors and the money will keep flowing in”.

I was always get nervous when people talk like this. So I asked him what he thought was the worst thing that could happen to his business and he responded that if his biggest customer went bust then he would be out of business tomorrow. I asked him whether he thought that was likely. He said no but also reflected that their payment terms had drifted out to 47 days in the past six months versus the 30 days it had been for the previous 10 years.

He began to look worried and decided that he better “review things and tighten them up a bit.” Good decision.

This is an all too common situation. Businesses prosper for a time and it is easy to believe that it will go on forever. It doesn’t. There are only two states of business – growth or decay. There is no steady state. The old saying “if you don’t like change you’ll like extinction even less” sums it up nicely.

One way to discover how much you like change is to look at how you react to unexpected “bad” events that occur. Do you immediately move into a problem solving mindset energised by the prospects for renewal? Or do you retreat into a defensive “ostrich head in the sand” stance hoping that if you avoid the situation it will go away and things will return to normal?

The trick is to decide whether you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

Here’s an analogy I use a lot. Imagine there is a small pin that sticks 5mm out from your chair. If you lean forward it doesn’t prick you. If you lean back it does. Leaning back is when you decide to take the foot off the gas and let things drift but the pin doesn’t allow you to do it. It is your regulator of behaviour (and your internal motivator) forcing you to be always moving forward.

The problem is that many people remove the pin from their chairs making it easy to lean back without any painful consequences. Removing the pins leads to the creation of comfort zones that are fine in the short term, but can lead to entrenched complacency and hubris. Many businesses have failed as a direct result of these conditions.

We will all have good and bad times in business. But it is important to understand that both are only temporary and they will pass. Nothing is permanent and sometimes you will be forced to make changes that are hard and uncomfortable. But if extinction, now or via a slow demise, is your only other option it would seem to be a simple choice…