Existential business (or when you are pushed to the wall, the wall sometimes disappears)

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This post will be philosophical in tone, and won’t explain all the gory details. (Some stories are safe to share completely only many years after they are fresh and relevant.) Suffice to say, a few months ago our business had a major crisis and I pulled what I thought would be the nuclear option.

The concepts in this “option” had been explored quite deeply more than a year earlier. In fact, we tried a gentle step then to implement it, and received a solid “no way — don’t even think of doing that” response from a key client. Weighing everything, I thought then: “The time is not now. It is far too risky.”

So we put the idea aside, until . . . all the key dashboard indicators told me that if we didn’t do it, we would be goners. And when a crisis reaches that stage, you bite the bullet and dive in the cold water, and hope for the best.

What happened?

Not a single paying client objected. In fact, some expressed love for the change. And the key client that had poured cold water on the initiative .  .  .? After our decision had been made, I offered the organization three options, one of which included additional payments if the customer really wanted to do things the way they had always been done. And the customer indeed (much to my surprise) decided to pay more money for the same service, reducing our cost risk substantially.

I’m still assessing the developments, but there are truly significant operational cost savings here. And the business remains quite intact. In pulling the “dare the limits” plug we adapted the business for the future, saved a pile of money, and lost not a single customer.

With that experience, of course, the post-mortem begin. I cannot be specific in public, but how much better would things have been if we had acted when we first considered the idea more than a year ago? Think six figures in economic advantage. Gulp.

The reason for holding off was quite simply, fear of the unknown and the consequences. In hindsight, we should have moved much more quickly.

Fear is a challenging emotion. It paralyzes us and causes a desire to retreat rather than advance. It can also be a driving emotion. When the fear of the consequences of doing nothing became greater than the fear of taking action, I could make the switch. I’d like to say I was courageous in my decision, but that truly overstates my emotions and reactions.

On the other hand, I’m glad we had a contingency plan for troubling circumstances. If we were paralyzed in initially implementing the idea, at least we had it on the shelf and I could quickly dust it off and implement it when I absolutely needed to take action.

And that addresses another positive side to the story. Sometimes, businesses go over the line because either they don’t know how to see the line, or they wishfully think they can somehow recover when they head past the point of no return. I’m thankful that I’ve always been quite aware of the “line” and understood that when that point arrived, there could never be an excuse for inaction. In pushing through fear at the right time, the business has been able to survive more than 25 years  and I now believe will successfully transition to the next stage — an employee-owned enterprise with some solid history and future viability.

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