Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) has made a cottage industry of writing about how people think. More to the point, how we think when in extreme situations, by which I mean times when we need to think outside of the box.
Gladwell does not always deal with life and death situations but more the situations that are out of the ordinary experience in life – the kinds of situations you find yourself in relatively infrequently. I have come to know those situations by the feeling I get of having been lost at the same spot before. What did I do then I wonder? Sometimes the answer comes and sometimes I have to improvise.
It’s like that in a recession, I think. These times, mercifully, happen only occasionally and we forget what they are like in the long interims so that each recession is a new learning experience. What did we do the last time? Will it work again?
The current issue (May 11) has a Gladwell article titled “How David Beats Goliath” and you can read it here. Without saying as much, I think the article is tuned to this recession and to what we can do about it. Not to give too much away, the article is about thinking outside of the box, about what successful underdogs do to triumph.
The nub of the idea is that underdogs think different, very much in keeping with Apple’s vaunted slogan. Thinking different enables us to change the rules which is especially useful for an underdog David playing by Goliath’s rules.
We’re all underdogs in a recession but the thing we don’t have is an opponent that we can vanquish. Nonetheless, there is still plenty of need to think different. At these times, the old ways of doing things don’t work any more, they might work again but it’s a big leap to assume that all of them will.
If past is prologue, one thing you can say for certain about a recession is that it is an opportunity for change — and products and services forged in a recession often have staying power once more normal activity resumes. Consider the last recession. Two things that I distinctly recall hitting critical mass in the years after the dot.com bubble burst were on-demand computing and Web based meeting services.
Each of these had been around prior to the recession and each had attracted a small but dedicated following of early adopters. They also attracted a group of skeptics. Who would trust their data to the Internet? What would customers think and say about a vendor who would rather talk and present on-line instead of making a formal sales call? These were good questions and in a recovery when everything is running well, no one wants to run the experiment for fear that the new solutions would not work well and crater business. In a recession, you have less to worry about which frees you to try.
I can remember surveying the marketplace routinely every other quarter in those days. Every survey I did always asked this question: “When you go to the market to evaluate CRM solutions will you at least look at an on-demand solution?” The question wasn’t about whether or not someone would make a purchase because that kind of question can’t be asked with any certainty of getting a useful response. But you can ask about intent and that was all I was looking for.
In survey after survey in the early part of this decade the answers to my question were remarkably consistent. Somewhere in the low 40% range of people who were thinking about buying CRM software would evaluate on-demand solutions. Then one day in 2003 everything changed. Rather than the usual low 40% response to my question, the result came back in the low 80% range. On-demand had reached its tipping point.
This coincided with the low ebb of the recession, 2003 was a rotten year but from there things began to improve and with it on-demand solutions began to play a larger role in business computing. I am sure the same thing happened in web-based meetings but I don’t have the data.
In my research and experience it looks like social networking in business is the big takeaway from this recession and that makes a lot of sense to me. Social networking is the best thing I have seen for enabling a company down to the individual sales representative, to keep selling its brand of thought leadership regardless of whether customers are buying anything else.
When you think about it, we all want to sell but if we can’t sell product, then we certainly want to be able to continue selling our ideas and ways of doing things. A customer who is not buying anything but thought leadership at the moment is just a loyal customer short of funds. But a customer who has given up on the thought leadership is one that is going away.
Understanding these things is just as valuable in a recession as it is in a recovery and I think that vendors who figure this out now are the ones who will come out of the recession the strongest because they will know more than their competition about what customers need and want as well as their biases and beliefs.
So my advice, if you want it, about getting over this recession is to bone up on social networking and social media. To help you I have designed a little workshop that you can take right now. Here goes.
- Go here and sign up for Facebook.
- Go here and sign up for Twitter.
- What are the differences? When is one a more appropriate vehicle than the other?
- Read the Gladwell article in the New Yorker on line.
- Get the the article’s url you’ll need it.
- Go here and make a tiny url. You need this so that you don’t waste characters in Twitter.
- Go back to Facebook and find your friends and customers. Ask them to be friends with you. This will enable you to see each other’s profiles and leave messages.
- Go to Twitter and find the same people and start following them. They’ll probably start following you.
- Post a short message on twitter saying something like, “Hey, cool article by Gladwell. Think there’s useful stuff on recession fighting here.” Remember you only have 140 characters including the turl.
- Finally learn the importance of # in Twitter.
11.Repeat this every day growing your list of acquaintances and pumping out thought leadership.
Lastly, check out this book: The Facebook Era.