The Long Winter of Discontent
Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, and so like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, we are stuck in a seemingly infinite loop of recession: people hiding their heads in their burrows, waiting for others to act, while the economy cools off into a deep freeze. London is frozen too, whilst trade unions threaten to strike in a repeat of the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent… and if all this symbolism isn’t enough for you, try this: Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hand was bitten by a groundhog — tip ‘o the hat to Chambeaux. Yes, one of New York City’s most influential billionaires — a veritable embodiment of the financial markets no less — has a bleeding hand, due to a bite from an angry rodent prognosticator.
For me, the problem started in late summer. As I called on clients to talk about doing business, I started hearing a common refrain: “I’m not making any moves right now. Call me towards the end of the year.” As September gave way to October and then November, the refrain became “Call me in January.” As more and more people held off on making decisions — decisions about where to invest and what to try doing — the economic landscape began to dry up, like an old cracked mud flat. Within this desert landscape there was increased competition. Everyone was scrambling for ever-smaller pools of opportunity. Small camps would form around these life-giving sources of revenue until those too dried up, or froze over, in the ever-expanding economic tundra.
Of course, January 5th rolled around and the world hadn’t magically transformed. Those people who decided the best way for them to keep their jobs was to not act, either were out of their jobs already, or further down the road towards becoming “redundant.” The rate of getting linked on LinkedIn and friended on Facebook (or as Microsoft spellcheck calls it, “fronded” — props to Ian M) has increased, as peers cling to each other for support. Maybe they were waiting for a new U.S. President on January 20, to usher in a New Long Boom. No dice. The only way out of a recession is to work your way out of it, by creating real, sustainable value.
For me, I’m grateful to have some clients who get it — they understand that now is the time to be smart and carve out a better position in the marketplace. A few small gutsy investments will go a long way. Here’s another way to put it: If expectations are so low all around, why not take a chance and try to blow away those expectations, tenfold? While your competition is focused entirely inward — just trying to stay afloat and not do anything too rash — you can decide where you want to take the whole game.
What is the right move to make? Maybe it’s that strategy you’ve had all along… or maybe there is a new strategy available, thanks to the current conditions. This economic storm, too, shall pass. And when it’s all over, the groundhogs will take their heads out of their burrows and, after blinking and rubbing their eyes, find themselves staring at a whole new landscape.