If the world economic crisis is negatively affecting you and/or your business, I have some advice for you...stop worrying about it! There’s next to nothing you can do to fix it, and worrying about it certainly isn’t going to help anything. If you really want to help yourself and your business, there’s another crisis you should be focusing on. It’s one that nobody is talking about and yet nearly everyone is suffering from. It’s also a crisis that you can actually do something about — and by doing so, you can help yourself fare better in these challenging economic times. Believe it or not, it’s called an Identity Crisis.
Erik Erikson, the ground-breaking developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, said that people experience an identity crisis when they lose "a sense of personal sameness and historical continuity." Further, only those who fully address this crisis and find a way to see themselves differently and in a way that is more congruent with the new and different world they find themselves in will survive and thrive.
This sums up what is happening in business today. American businesses and workers are in an Identity Crisis. Government is going into business, and businesses are going out of business in ways that are unprecedented since the Great Depression. A bonus has gone from a perk to a pejorative, and the corporate jet, once a sign of success, is now viewed as a sign of excess. The financial markets, which are largely based on predictions and projections, are a mess, largely because both are based on a sense of historical continuity that has recently been rendered irrelevant. American businesses are finding themselves in an environment they don’t even recognize, let alone understand. How can they strategize to it?
The American worker, who is trying to face this crisis with a can-do attitude, is experiencing an identity crisis as well. Our most experienced workers, people with 20 or 30 years of on-the-job experience, have never operated in a business climate like this. So, which part of their "experience" still has some value, and which part is weighing them down in this vast sea change? Today’s economic crisis is a real game changer. In fact, the game has changed so much that many of the old rules don’t apply, and what used to put you on the scoreboard doesn’t necessarily do so now. What, if anything, can be done?
The fact is this — there is very little a single business or an individual can do to directly fix today’s worldwide economic crisis. That being said, it’s important to remind ourselves that nearly every crisis has opportunity hidden in it somewhere. But those opportunities aren’t always so obvious to us, nor are they always easy to find. The way to find the opportunity in this economic crisis is to stop wasting our thoughts and emotions on what we can’t control and start to focus them on what we can. The key here is to focus on getting past the identity crisis our times have created for us.
The critical first step when facing an identity crisis is to recognize and admit that you’re having one. To not admit this is to continue to try to bring the same perspectives, definitions, and approaches to a world that will no longer respond to them the way it used to respond. This is a great recipe for a heaping serving of failure and frustration. Yet it is just what most businesses and individuals across America are doing today. They’re "redoubling their efforts" or adjusting budgets and costs against the same plan and approach to the market that they had when they were in a vastly different market environment. They are, in fact, "holding on" until things go back to the way they were.
Instead, the best hope for businesses or individuals to survive, and perhaps even thrive, in this new business environment is to learn how to see themselves differently in the new context of the new environment.
Identity, whether corporate or individual, has many elements to it. For example, a business can have a brand identity. It can be said that Apple is a cool brand compared with its rival Microsoft. Or its identity could be reflected in the way it goes about doing its business differently than its competitors, like a Southwest Airlines. The same can be said for individuals. For example, identity theft refers not to someone stealing your soul or your mind, but rather to someone using the aspects or elements of you that banks and businesses identify you by — your credit cards, records, and key relevant personal information.
How we see ourselves is a foundational element of our identity. Because the world has changed so drastically that it sees us differently, meaning that it responds differently than it used to, to what we do and how we do it, we need to step back and find a way to see ourselves differently. It is only through this process that we can find a way for the world to respond positively to us once again. To hold on to the same view of ourselves and the world, and wait for things to get back to the way they were (which, believe it or not, is the current approach for most businesses and individuals in this country right now) will cause greater hardship and possibly even failure. This is evidenced by the increasing numbers of business closings and home foreclosures.
So how does one begin to see oneself and one’s business differently? It’s important to step back and re-evaluate what is and what was, and the distinction between the two. For example, as teenagers start to become full-fledged members of adult society, some aspects of how they see themselves must change in order for them to be successful adults. The law views them differently. Their employers view them differently. The world has a different set of expectations for them, so they too must become aware of these distinctions and adapt their behavior. This requires that they learn to see themselves differently. Young adults who don’t do this will find themselves in a sorry state sooner or later. There’s no way around it.
When businesses look at their products differently, they bring us innovations like coolers with wheels and handles, all-temperature laundry detergents, and plastic squeezable ketchup bottles that stand upside down. When they look at themselves differently, they find new business models the way Apple created iTunes and car companies created their own financing arms as business units and profit centers.
When businesses have the courage and insight to look at themselves differently, salespeople can begin to see that selling doesn’t consist of giving customers what they want, the way they want it, for the price they expected — that’s order taking. (The Internet has contributed to this now-common approach to sales.) Selling actually occurs only when customers happily leave with something more than what they came to purchase, usually (but not always) because they spent more than they had originally intended. Similarly, smart customer service doesn’t occur when a company does everything it can to make the customer happy, any more than it can come about when a company does everything it can to qualify for some national customer service award, regardless of how it affects the bottom line. Rather, the best measure of good customer service is doing the absolute least to appear outstanding in the mind of the customer. All efforts beyond that cut into profits. That’s a fact.
I have the honor and pleasure of keynoting events all over the world on the subject of transformational thinking. I also counsel admirals and CEOs on the subject, and work with their commands and organizations. While every one of my clients is unique and requires a specialized strategy to the market, I can tell you with great authority that these next few sentences are true and applicable for anyone who will read them. There is close to nothing on your calendar or to-do list right now that is more urgent and more critical than to stop what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it and identify the clear distinctions between the world you used to work in and the world you work in today. Then, contemplate, strategize, and plan on how you need to see yourself and your business in a way that can set you up to succeed in this new economic world. Once this is done, your next step is to compellingly convince yourself and your fellow workers that there is much to be gained by letting go of who they were and grabbing on to who they need to be.
Crisis indeed has opportunity in it. Though it may seem difficult to believe for some of us, today’s economic crisis, while unprecedented, definitely has opportunity in it. This is not positive thinking or some form of optimism. We know that some people and businesses will profit from these times. Those who have the courage to see the world as it is now, versus how it used to be, and those who understand the distinctions and the implications of the distinctions, and who are able to let go of past versions of their world to adjust their thoughts and behaviors to the present economic environment, will find their opportunity.
It is said that we enter each age of life as a novice. If you or your company has the courage to admit that this is true, you have just begun to take the first necessary step to positively dealing with your current identity crisis and to finding a way through this current economic crisis, rather than be a victim to it. It’s the best you can do — and, perhaps, it’s all that you’ll need. And, if I may be so bold, if a critical mass of workers and companies did just that, it could just become the ultimate solution to the larger economic crisis.