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The perfect storm of a shock defeat: how to see it coming, how to avoid it, what we can learn from it

There are no prizes for guessing what news story is dominating the headlines today; a certain sports team outmanoeuvred another certain sports team with rather embarrassing ease, and for anyone who has affiliated themselves with the losing team over the last few days, months, years or even, as in many cases, decades, it is probably not yet time to remove your head from the sand, or your hands from your eyes.

david luizSo how to talk about something so momentous, awful, fascinating, comprehensive and yet incomprehensible? An event that felt like a bad dream, but was all too real; a story unfolding in front of our eyes that was the stuff of late night horror, or campfire legend, depending on who you were backing.

Well, from a business perspective, there are all sorts of lessons that can be learnt; about leadership, about organisation, about how to channel energy and emotion the right way. Because really, no business, no start-up, no leader can ever afford to get it this wrong again. So pay attention to the following details, and yes, it is all about taking care of details, as we look at the 3 stages of dealing with a business catastrophe, making 3 points about each stage intended to help you avoid the sort of toe curling, cringe making, entirely avoidable mistakes that will make you the subject of ridicule for years to come, and immortalise you forever in the moment you most wish to forget.

The storm is brewing

Ahoy there! Rare are the occasions when plain sailing equals enjoyment and a chance for some downtime. If the sun is out, the sea calm, your job is to find out where the next test is coming from. You will be shouting at the crow’s nest, reminding shipmates of the emergency drills, and working through even the most unlikely of doomsday scenarios. Because what seems impossible to you, is probably the very thing your opponents are dreaming about making a reality. Overestimate your competitors by all means, just don’t underestimate them.

keep your hat on

keep your hat on

Be on deck! If it starts to rain on your journey, it will usually begin with a light drizzle. That is not the cue for you for head below deck, it’s when the hard work begins. Stay out of sight, huddling together for comfort, and you will (eventually) get found out. If there is trouble coming, the earlier you plan for it the more likely you will be able to do something about it when it comes. Pretend it’s not there or hide from the reality of it, and when it arrives it will be even more merciless than you thought.

Get your timings right! When you are in the eye of the storm, it is too late to start making a plan, it’s time to execute the one you concocted when you planned your disaster recovery strategy. First, you must have spent time trying to identify what weaknesses you have as a business. Having identified areas of vulnerability you must then take care to schedule your plans for improvement in that area, and balance the schedule against the time it will take for either your rivals, or a simple force of nature, to start exploiting it. Let’s say you identify 2 issues: your Company website is out of date, and you need to make some new hires. You launch yourself into a recruitment drive, while your marketing team sends a mailshot to 10,000 prospective clients recommending they visit “” to take advantage of the latest products. You knew it was coming, so you have no excuse.

Take Cover!

Can I face this head-on? If you have been honest about the respective strengths and weaknesses of you and your business rivals, you will be in a good position to decide if fight of flight is the best option. Admittedly, you can’t run forever, especially if you want to be the best, but is there any possibility you can delay the inevitable until such a time when the fight may be fairer? Look at your options, and remember, if it looks like a catastrophe is on the cards, your stalling tactics may look silly, or juvenile, but people won’t remember them for long, whereas they will remember a massacre forever.

Brace yourself! If you spot somebody 50 yards in front of you ducking, then duck! Again, it won’t make you look a million dollars, but, again, if you can see something disastrous coming your way there is no use pretending it doesn’t exist. Start thinking about damage limitation as early as you can; a gung-ho approach under these kind of circumstances is absolutely not the right way to go, although it may seem strangely tempting at the time. Adopting a pragmatic approach shows that you are not panicking, panic soaks up energy, affects rational thought patterns, and alienates the people around you. Don’t give in to it.

Accept your fate, but don’t abandon yourself to fate! When it starts to get ugly, it’s time to man-up. Thoughts and feeling such as “I don’t deserve this”, “this is so awful”, and “I wish the ground would swallow me up” are counter-productive to say the least. It’s here, it’s bad, its mostly your fault. Enjoy it! Take it on, whether you like it or not its your responsibility. Sure you wanted to be on the winning team, but you are not, and there is nothing you can do about it. Don’t wish your life away, make the most of what you have got. If life gives you lemons, as they say…

Never again

Remember the pain! If you could bottle this feeling? Well, it would stink, but it’s crucial to remember that lows are as much a part of life as highs. If you can remember them, albeit dispassionately and in a constructive way, that’s something that will help you enormously. But what will really be useful is your ability to smell danger; that churn in your stomach, remember it, it was trying to tell you something, something you ignored before. Don’t make the same mistake again. To an extent, embrace your primaeval side.

if you can keep your head

can you keep your head?

Master your emotions Aside from acting as an early warning system as described above, emotions are of little practical use to the businessman. If you spot someone behaving emotionally at your workplace, ask yourself, could this display be a calculated ploy to achieve a certain kind of permission otherwise unobtainable? In 15 years of working in offices, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have witnessed a colleague experiencing a genuine emotion. If somebody is getting carried away, then they are headed full speed for disaster. Don’t be that person, recognise when you are letting your heart rule your head, and save it for the holidays.

Don’t howl at the moon! Realistically, the combination of circumstances that brought about the disaster that befell you are all too likely to align again, and there is ultimately little you can do to stop that, or react in any way other than you did, after all that is your nature. But what little you can change, make sure you do it, and do it over and again. This is the only way you can make a difference; practise, chip away at it every day. Against the irresistible force, you must be the immovable object. Don’t flinch, stand firm, know how to react, understand what a bad reaction looks and feels like. And you may be surprised how often a tiny improvement makes all the difference.

Follow these rules, and you might be able to make a major shellacking look more like a close defeat, and it may just be enough to save your business; ignore them, and, well, now at least you know what can happen.

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