I had a great conversation with a friend at the recent TLMI Annual Meeting. Of course, the “how’s business” question enters into the conversation relatively soon. “Brian, we’re having a good year. But it doesn’t feel like it. Everyone’s on edge, everyone’s nervous, and no one’s happy.” I responded, “You nailed it – things aren’t fantastic but they’re not bad either. But everyone thinks things are bad.” We continued our banter and it really got me thinking. We’re all worried about what’s around the corner. As I’ve written in the past, visibility has decreased dramatically in most industries. The lack of visibility certainly has its challenges. But are things that bad? We’ve had price stability for the last 3 years or so. Yes, I know there have been some raw material challenges and operating costs (especially health care costs) have risen. But the last increase that made it through the value chain was in 2011. That’s the longest we’ve gone in my time in the industry. (Suppliers – don’t get any ideas just yet. I know you “need” increases due to raw material cost increases. It’s still a challenge due to my next point.) Growth is not robust, but we have growth. It’s certainly not 2009 out there. Yet if you talk to the average person, he’d say we’re still in a recession. Our government is dysfunctional but that is probably a good thing. Look back in history – our most prosperous economic times come with a divided government in which neither party advances its agenda. Yes, there is discord in the world but there’s always discord in the world – we just hear about it a lot more.
I’m not a Pollyanna. As I wrote, things aren’t all rosy. We do have to prepare for inflation – it’s coming. I’m reading a great book – thank you @MattHlavin – titled “The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horowitz (http://www.amazon.com/Hard-Thing-About-Things-Building/dp/0062273205/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414583875&sr=1-1&keywords=ben+horowitz) (Note to IDI Team: this will be on the reading list soon.) Ben takes a different approach to Jim Collins’ truism that part of a leader’s mission is to confront the brutal reality. Ben thinks leaders tend to be too optimistic. In general, I think he’s right. But, as in the political arena and most of life, the pendulum swings too far one way or the other. Take a step back and talk about the good things that have happened. Not every meeting has to be about what went wrong and what you’re doing to fix it. Have a meeting about the good things once in a while. I think the experiences of 2008 and 2009 have made everyone a little skittish and reluctant to acknowledge reality in a positive way. You owe it to yourself and your team to confront reality. Right now, reality isn’t all that bad.