Never mistake a short distance for a clear view.
Jim Barksdale, the legendary CEO, has a famous quote that says, "Never mistake a clear view for a short distance." The idea borrows from old cowboy wisdom about traveling on horseback through the west. Out here, skies are big and distances can appear a lot shorter than they actually are. It can give you a false sense of security.
I appreciate Barksdale's insight. But these days, the quote rings even truer if you flip it around. My version is, "Never mistake a short distance for a clear view." In other words, when you're face-to-face with a business crisis, never mistake let the perception of an immediate threat force you into a flinch or a knee-jerk reaction.
Things happen fast in business. Pandemics pop up, businesses get locked down, and the whole world appears to change. The flinch reaction tempts us into throwing everything into high gear, jumping into action, and doing things right now. It's easy to mistake action for results. The faster our world moves and changes and the more volatile and complex it becomes, the more we're tempted to just move and do something--anything. To flinch, to react, to strike out.
It's the same whether the threat is personal, like a bad guy trying to mug you at an ATM, or professional, like your market locking down and changing your entire sales and marketing funnels. The natural response is to jump into tactics and forget all about strategy, not to mention dumping the values and mission that drove your strategies in the past.
We feel the need to stem the tide and plug every hole in the leaky dike. To run another ad. Or shoot another video. Or fire out an email blast to everyone who's ever sent your business an email along with a few ex-employees and long-lost relatives to boot. We mistake fear for urgency and quickly move to fill our schedules with virtual coffees and Zoom into every possible networking event.
Fight those reactions. Force yourself to pause, breathe, and deflect or at least side-step for a minute. Understand that you are not the panic and your mission and values are no less legitimate than they were before the crisis began. When you set them aside in the interest of rapid response, you also set aside your chances for success.
But getting clear on the reality of the crisis and your best response requires an accurate awareness of the situation and yourself. You remember the axiom about measuring twice and cutting once? Well, it's true here as well. Action taken after clarity always yields better results than flailing around at the wind, than pulling a trigger before we aim or before we're even sure of the threat. The crisis may be right in front of you, leaning in against your nose and fogging your corporate glasses. But your business and your team need you not to panic but to be clear. Any strategy or tactic that you use as a response to crisis is only as useful and as effective as the clarity you have in defining that crisis.