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by Doug Davidoff | Aug 11, 2009 3:43:18 AM

cautionI pride myself on being an optimist.  A long time ago I had a coach who told me that he could describe the current business environment at the time and forever in the future.  “Opportunity mixed with difficulty,” he said.  He added, “And what’s more – the greater the difficult, the greater the opportunity.”

I also pride myself on being a realist.  And I have to admit that I’m getting a bit concerned about the buzz I’m hearing in business circles.  While I certainly think the increased optimism and focus on growth on the part of business executives is much healthier than the “we’re all doing to die” feelings of a few months ago, I’m concerned that many may be deceiving themselves.

Today, in my twitter stream I’ve seen a number of headlines, such as:

    • 6 Ways to Prepare for the Coming Upswing

    • Dow, S&P Hit New '09 High

    • Pace of Job Losses Sets Stage for Quick Labor-Market Rebound

    • When recessions end, stocks win

What concerns me is not the optimism, but the messages beneath the headlines.  I’m worried that executives are viewing the “economic recovery” as a certainty and typical of previous recoveries.  Now, just a few months ago, executives were convinced that we were never going to emerge from recession, today it appears as though the champagne has been put on ice.

As my opening paragraph indicates, I fully believe that the next 12 – 18 months represents TREMENDOUS opportunity – FOR THOSE BUSINESSES WHO MAKE THE CRITICAL, PAINFUL, AND NECESSARY CHANGES TO THEIR BUSINESSES.

  • If you think for a second that the price concession your buyers have grabbed from you in the past 12 months are going to be given back without significant oppositions, you’re in for a rude awakening.
  • If you think discretionary spending (both in corporate markets or consumer markets) is going to come back to previous levels, be prepared to be shocked.
  • If you think your traditional, non-value creative sales approaches are going to work like they did in the past, be prepared to watch your margins disappear.

Here's the point:  Just because the environment feels less painful, don't reduce the time  you spend thinking about your business and its direction.  Don't slow down any actions you planned because, "things aren't so bad."  While you should certainly be preparing to for a recovery, you should be asking yourself: how have you fundamentally changed your business approach and maybe, even, your business model.  If you haven’t, there’s a good chance you won’t notice the recovery - whenever it does happen.